Recording of World Premieres by Chick Corea and Brad Mehldau – and Original Jazz Band Rhapsody in BluePianist Kirill Gerstein, whose masterful technique, musical curiosity and probing interpretations have led to explorations of classical music and jazz, brings those worlds together at Boston’s Berklee College of Music on March 30 with “An Evening with Kirill Gerstein: Rhapsody in Blue.” The Russian-born pianist will perform the world premieres of works by Chick Corea and Brad Mehldau, commissioned by Gerstein using prize money from his 2010 Gilmore Artist Award. The jazz-inspired program also features the original 1924 jazz-band version of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with a 25-piece ensemble consisting of Berklee faculty and students. Vibraphonist Gary Burton, clarinetist/saxophonist Anat Cohen, and cellist/composer Eugene Friesen are special guests. Produced by Gerstein and directed by Berklee professor Phil Wilson, “An Evening with Kirill Gerstein: Rhapsody in Blue” is being recorded for future release internationally on the Myrios Classics label.
The concert is both a homecoming for Gerstein and a return to his jazz roots. Born in Voronezh, in southwestern Russia, Gerstein studied jazz at an early age in addition to his classical training. Vibraphonist Gary Burton, long associated with Berklee as a student, professor and administrator, met the pianist and invited him to study at the college, where at 14 Gerstein became the youngest student ever admitted. Burton will join Gerstein for the world premiere of Chick Corea’s The Visitors. The second world premiere, Brad Mehldau’s Variations on a Melancholy Theme, is for solo piano. Both premieres are by “great improvisers fixing and elaborating their thoughts through notation,” said Gerstein.
During his years at Berklee, Gerstein continued to study classical piano and attended Boston University’s summer program at Tanglewood. He eventually decided to focus on classical repertoire, and by age 20 had earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classical piano at the Manhattan School of Music. Now an internationally recognized artist who performs regularly with the world’s great orchestras, he continues to explore the intersections between classical music and jazz.
The March 30 concert includes music often termed “crossover” or “third stream,” a term coined by composer and historian Gunther Schuller in 1957. “Classical and jazz music are often presented as opposites,” comments Gerstein. “I am interested in tracing and blurring the borders between these styles, as well as illuminating the similarities between the two.”
Daniel R. Gustin, director of the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival, has said, “Kirill Gerstein demonstrates what a remarkable artist he is by using some of his Gilmore Award monies to commission piano music from such an incredibly wide range of composers as he has, including two of the greatest jazz composer/pianists of our time—Brad Mehldau and Chick Corea. Not many pianists today could successfully champion such a wide-ranging and eclectic group of composers and their music, and be able to do so with such genuine passion and conviction.” These new pieces join Oliver Knussen’s “Ophelia’s Last Dance” and a new work by Timothy Andres also commissioned by Gerstein. “Ophelia’s Last Dance” is included on his most recent CD on the Myrios label.
In addition to the Corea and Mehldau world premieres, Gerstein performs Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue in the original 1924 jazz-band arrangement commissioned by bandleader Paul Whiteman. While audiences are familiar with the1942 version for large orchestra, the 1924 arrangement is not often heard. “I always wanted to do Rhapsody in Blue with jazz musicians playing the original band version of the piece,” says Gerstein. “I can’t wait to come back to my alma mater, Berklee College of Music, for this concert; to play again with Gary Burton, who was my teacher; and to collaborate with Anat Cohen, Berklee faculty and students.” In the first half of the program, Cohen, clarinet soloist in Rhapsody in Blue, will also perform arrangements from her 2007 recording Noir with Grammy Award-winning Berklee faculty cellist Eugene Friesen.