Home » Artists » Time and Distance

Mark Abel: Bio

American composer Mark Abel has been praised for both his musical ability and writing of lyrics. His provocative and original 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.

Abel, a former journalist, shines a light in his texts on timeless issues and those of today, couched at times in biting social commentary. His attention to the gestural elements and pacing of classical music, 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 lyrics are the phenomenon of contemporary terrorism, the psyches and social milieus of his fellow Californians and Americans as a society, the peaks and chasms of personal relationships. He has also set the verses of contemporary poets Kate Gale and Joanne Regenhardt as well as giants of the previous century, including Rainer Maria Rilke and Pablo Neruda.

Abel's new CD Time and Distance, the Delos label's fourth release of his music, is a wide-ranging survey that features Grammy-winning soprano Hila Plitmann and Southern California mezzo Janelle DeStefano. It was preceded by the double CD package Home Is a Harbor – which includes his first opera (a three-act look at modern America through the experiences of twentysomething twin sisters) and the Gale-derived cycle "The Palm Trees Are Restless" –  the art song showcase Terrain of the Heart and The Dream Gallery.

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 writer of vocal music. 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, songwriter and record producer in New York City in the 1970s and into the '80s, Abel collaborated with such seminal rock figures as Tom Verlaine (Television), the Feelies, Danny Kalb (the Blues Project), Michael Brown (the Left Banke), and Harold Kelling, founder of the legendary Atlanta fusion group the Hampton Grease Band. In 1971 he participated as a choral singer in the recording of jazz composer Carla Bley's groundbreaking masterpiece Escalator Over the Hill.

Abel exited rock in the mid '80s, frustrated by the idiom's harmonic and rhythmic restrictions, and the pop music industry's increasingly narrow focus. He relocated to California in late 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 Denny Zeitlin. He has never sought to eradicate the lingering (if sublimated) influence of rock in his work, preferring to continue refining his signature synthesis of musical building blocks.

Since 2013, Abel has resided in San Simeon, California.

1 The Invocation
2 Those Who Loved Medusa
3 In The Rear View Mirror Now The Long Goodbye
4 The World Clock
5 The Nature Of Friendship
6 The Ocean Of Forgiveness - Desert Wind
7 Sally's Suicide
8 In Love With The Sky
9 Reunion
10 Patience
11 The Benediction
Mark Abel: Those Who Loved Medusa (The Film) featuring Hila Plitmann

The California-based composer Mark Abel, who "employs a colorful blend of styles that serve the emotional nature of each work to bracing and poignant effect" (Donald Rosenberg, Gramophone, August 2016) has released a new recording-his fourth in recent years-entitled Time and Distance on the Delos label. Drawing on a variegated lifetime of artistic, journalistic, political, and poetic endeavors, Mr. Abel has composed five art songs for voice and piano, three of which are based on his own texts, one on a poem by Kate Gale, and one composed to five poems by Joanne Regenhardt. Time and Distance features performances by Grammy Award-winning soprano Hila Plitman; mezzo-sorpano Janelle DeStefano, pianist Tali Tadmor, pianist Carol Rosenberger, Bruce Carver on percussion, and Mr. Abel at the organ.