Baltimore, Md. (September 28, 2009)—Music Director Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will perform a program featuring George Gershwin classics with French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet as soloist at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on Thursday and Friday, November 12 and 13 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, November 15 at 3:00 p.m. and at The Music Center at Strathmore on Saturday, November 14 at 8:00 p.m. The program includes Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Concerto in F, “I Got Rhythm” Variations, Overture to Girl Crazy and Overture to Of Thee I Sing. Gershwin’s music fuses classical traditions with the American vernacular, a characteristic that highlights the BSO’s season-long theme of exploring cultural roots. Receiving excellent reviews from the Washington Post for conveying “vigor,” “sensitivity” and “star power” during his performance of “Rhapsody” and Concerto in F with the BSO in the spring of 2008, Thibaudet now returns for another evening of “power-Gershwin.” Thibaudet will also return to the BSO the following week, November 19-21, to perform Liszt’s Totentanz.
Instantly recognizable by the clarinet’s opening wail, Rhapsody in Blue has become a piano standard since it was written in 1923. The piece was premiered at a concert of “experimental music” hosted by big band leader Paul Whiteman. Whiteman had asked Gershwin to write a “jazz concerto” months before the concert, but after a few scribbles, the project was abandoned. Gershwin later read in an issue of the New York Tribune that he was to play this as-yet unwritten piece in a concert scheduled for a month later. He finished Rhapsody in Blue just days before he was to play, and improvised all of the solos, having given Paul Whiteman the instruction that he would nod when the orchestra should come back in. The piece, which Gershwin is quoted as saying is “a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our blues, our metropolitan madness,” was a huge success. The BSO will perform the original version of the piece for jazz orchestra rather than the classical version heard performed by most orchestras today.
While Gershwin completed Rhapsody with almost no musical training, he bought books on theory and orchestration to aid his composition of Concerto in F, written just a few years later. Although the piece was intended to have more of a classical structure, Gershwin’s writing again displays his jazz tendencies. The Concerto reveals his inner struggle between his wish to be considered a “serious” composer and advice from his jazz colleagues, who encouraged him to ignore studying counterpoint and harmony.
Considered his last classical concert piece, Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” Variations were composed in 1933-1934, just years before his death. The variations are based on the hit song from his Broadway musical Girl Crazy. Like Rhapsody, the piece opens with a clarinet solo, which is followed by six variations on the “I Got Rhythm” melody.
George Gershwin often collaborated with his older brother Ira Gershwin to create some of the most memorable songs on Broadway. Their musical Girl Crazy (1930) and was a smashing success that made stars of both Ginger Rogers and Ethel Merman. The Broadway production Of Thee I Sing premiered a year later in 1931 and was the first musical to win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama (1932).
COMPLETE PROGRAM INFORMATION
Classical Concert Series: All-Gershwin
Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 8:00 p.m. —Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (JMSH)
Friday, November 13, 2009 at 8:00 p.m. —JMSH
Saturday, November 14, 2009 at 8:00 p.m. — The Music Center at Strathmore
Sunday, November 15, 2009 at 3:00 p.m. — JMSH
Marin Alsop, conductor
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano
Gershwin: Overture to Girl Crazy
Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue
Gershwin: “I Got Rhythm” Variations
Gershwin: Overture to Of Thee I Sing
Gershwin: Concerto in F
Tickets are $28 to $90 and are available through the BSO Ticket Office, 877.BSO.1444, 410.783.8000 or BSOmusic.org.