Provocative, original and accessible, American composer Mark Abel has been praised for his writing of lyrics as well as his musical ability. His signature style blends elements of classical, rock and jazz in a unique musical fusion that combines the depth and sophistication of classical with the direct impact of rock.
A former journalist, Abel’s work shines a light on timeless issues and those of today, often couched in biting social commentary. His attention to the gestural elements and pacing of classical music, the inclusion of evocative lyrics, and the use of an accessible tonal language with a strong emphasis on melody has produced an elegant meld of poetry and music. Among the subjects he has addressed in his own texts are the phenomenon of contemporary terrorism, a nonpareil relationship catastrophe, and, in his orchestral song cycle “The Dream Gallery,” the psyches and social milieus of his fellow Californians.
His CD Home Is a Harbor, released by the Delos label in March 2016, features the world premiere recording of his first opera, a three-act, multilayered look at modern America through the experiences of a pair of twin sisters. Also included in the package is the song cycle “The Palm Trees Are Restless,” in which Abel set the writings of Los Angeles poet Kate Gale. This was Abel's third CD for Delos, preceded by Terrain of the Heart and The Dream Gallery. A fourth release, Time and Distance, will be issued in March.A
Abel’s life suggests a creative tapestry woven with two primary and powerful strands: Music and journalism. Son of the distinguished reporter and author Elie Abel, Mark Abel grew up in America, Europe and Asia, receiving crucial exposure as a child to the fast-moving global political and cultural events of the 1950s and 1960s. The immersion included an introduction to classical music, which was his consuming artistic interest until his early teens. It was then supplanted for some time by modern jazz and later by rock, the medium through which he first developed his talents as a songwriter. Mark briefly attended Stanford University in the turbulent late '60s but decided to strike out on his own at the age of 20.
As a guitarist, bassist and songwriter in New York in the 1970s and into the '80s, Abel played and recorded with such seminal figures as Tom Verlaine (Television), Danny Kalb (The Blues Project), Michael Brown (the Left Banke), and Harold Kelling, founder of the pioneering Atlanta fusion group the Hampton Grease Band.
Abel's interest in rock faded by the mid '80s, however, due to the harmonic and rhythmic restrictions imposed by the pop song format and frustration with the commercial music industry's ever-narrowing scope. He relocated to California in 1983 and made a vocational shift into journalism, eventually becoming the foreign editor of the San Francisco Chronicle (the second largest newspaper on the West Coast), a post he held until 2004. During those years, much changed in Abel's musical world as he began working out more complex compositional ideas, an evolving process that led him back to classical music.
Influenced by a variety of artists from different genres, Abel’s principal heroes include such classical composers as Ives, Szymanowski, Brahms, Duparc, Strauss, Debussy, Berg, Janacek, Lutoslawski, Takemitsu and Dutilleux. He also draws inspiration from jazz figures from his teen years—among them, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Eric Dolphy, Paul Bley and the great but little-known California pianist Denny Zeitlin.