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Classical 101

George Gershwin's Music is Here to Stay

George Gershwin was born on this date in 1898, and his music is still embraceable by lovers of both jazz and classical music.  It's brash, suave, seductive and exciting.  Maybe this was the first "crossover" music?  If it was, it's still the best. From smash hit musicals on Broadway to Carnegie Hall, Gershwin's music seems to define the era of the 1920's and early to mid 30's in America.  With his brother Ira's unforgettable lyrics, hit tunes flowed freely expressing the exuberance of the era, as well as more tender human feelings: "I Got Rhythm," "Embraceable You," "The Man I Love," "Someone to Watch Over Me," and on it goes. There were the earlier Tin Pan Alley songs that got George's career going and the final great achievement of the opera Porgy and Bess.  And there was lots more during his short thirty eight years on this earth. The orchestral concert works Rhapsody in Blue (1924), Piano Concerto in F (1925), An American in Paris (1928),  Second Rhapsody (1931), Cuban Overture (1932), and Variations on I Got Rhythm (1934) demonstrate a remarkable creativity and ability in blending the idioms of jazz with classical symphonic forms in a way that deeply impressed no less a composer than Maurice Ravel. The story goes that Gershwin wanted to study orchestration with Ravel.  Ravel asked him why?  He supposedly said that, "it's better to be a first-rate Gershwin than a second-rate Ravel."  And there's the anecdote that when Ravel asked Gershwin how much money he made a year and he told him, Ravel replied, " maybe I should be taking lessons with you."  At any rate, when you listen to Ravel's two piano concertos, you can hear Gershwin's influence on him. If composers such as Aaron Copland conjure up the rural fields and plains of the American landscape in works such as Appalachian Spring or Rodeo, no one better expresses the energy and buzz of the machine age in America's cities, particularly New York, than George Gershwin in his unique and wonderful contribution to the music of our land. Here's a fine performance of Rhapsody in Blue: http://youtu.be/phjfaULrfwg If you want to hear more Gershwin, there's a great opportunity coming up.  The Midland Theater in Newark is presenting "Here to Stay- The Gershwin Experience" on Sunday afternoon, October 14th with soprano Sylvia McNair and pianist Kevin Cole.  It's a multimedia event celebrating the music and life of George and Ira Gershwin. http://youtu.be/-PGlgtfSGM8