Los Angeles Music Preview: RHAPSODY IN BLUE (Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra)

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by Tony Frankel on December 6, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES CHAMBER ORCHESTRA BRIDGES JAZZ, FOLK AND ORCHESTRAL MUSIC

It’s only the first week of December and, if you’re anything like me, you may find yourself already burning out on the plethora of holiday-themed entertainment. Well, here is your chance to sneak out of that holiday party or avoid yet another staging of A Christmas Carol for a truly exciting and distinctive evening of jazz, folk, and orchestral music presented by Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO). While the concert will include works by Copland, Dvořák, and John Adams, I am single-mindedly looking forward to Gershwin: Music Director Jeffrey Kahane will assume double duty as both conductor and pianist for the original version of Rhapsody in Blue (1924) on Saturday, December 8, 8 pm, at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, and Sunday, December 9, 7 pm, at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema preview of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: Rhapsody in Blue at the Alex and Royce Hall in Los Angeles

The truth is, no one really knows exactly what the debut of Rhapsody in Blue sounded like in 1924. Gershwin, who was only 25 at the time, wrote the piece in under five weeks for a concert headed by bandleader Paul Whiteman. The job of orchestrating went to Ferde Grofé, who would later compose the iconic Grand Canyon Suite (1931); Grofé’s arrangements for Whiteman’s jazz orchestra were created from Gershwin’s composition for two pianos. Gershwin himself played the piano at the premiere, but there was some improvisation and the piano part was not written down until after the concert— Grofé’s notation for Whiteman to “wait for nod” has become legendary. While the concert called An Experiment in Modern Music is historically famous for introducing the work, it staggers to discover who was in the audience: Luminaries included John Phillip Sousa, Jascha Heifetz, Efrem Zimbalist, Sr. and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema preview of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: Rhapsody in Blue at the Alex and Royce Hall in Los Angeles

Grofé would adapt the score for larger orchestras in 1926 and again in 1942. It is the latter version which we have become accustomed to via ads for United Airlines and the like. The 1924 version calls for 24 musicians, plus strings; even though it has been recorded and continues to gain in popularity since the 1970’s, it is nonetheless rarely performed in this fashion, and LACO, considered one of the nation’s premier orchestras, is guaranteed to do a superb rendering.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema preview of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: Rhapsody in Blue at the Alex and Royce Hall in Los AngelesGershwin’s contemporary, Aaron Copeland, also blended together jazz and folk within a classical format, establishing a uniquely American sound, which branded him a populist. Copeland’s music is so synonymous with the American landscape that his themes appear as backgrounds in nature specials and beef advertisements. LACO will also present Appalachian Spring Suite in its original 1944 version for 13-instrument chamber orchestra.

Also on the program will be Dvořák’s distinctly Czech-influenced Serenade for Winds, Op. 44, which will validate the astonishing finesse of LACO’s wind section, and you’ll also hear Son of Chamber Symphony (2007) by John Adams, who, according to The New Yorker, “may be the most vital and eloquent composer in America.” The entire program will be conducted by Kahane, one of the world’s foremost conductors and pianists, who marks his 16th season as LACO’s music director.

Pre-concert talks will take place one hour before curtain, providing insights into the music and artists, and are free for all ticket holders. The concert preludes will take place at the Alex Theatre at 7 pm and Royce Hall at 6pm.

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: Rhapsody in Blue
Jeffrey Kahane, conductor and piano
Alex Theatre in Glendale
Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 8
UCLA’s Royce Hall
Sunday, December 9, 2012 at 7
for tickets, call 213 622 7001, or visit laco.org

{ 2 comments }

Richard Huckaby September 23, 2015 at 2:09 pm

Where can I purchase this on CD?
Thank you

Tony Frankel September 23, 2015 at 4:27 pm

Richard:

Reconstructions of the 1924 version have been recorded by Michael Tilson Thomas and the Columbia Jazz Band in 1976, and by Maurice Peress with Ivan Davis on piano as part of a 60th-anniversary reconstruction of the entire 1924 concert. In 2010 Steven Richman conducted a recording of the original version with pianist Lincoln Mayorga, clarinet/alto sax soloist Al Gallodoro, and Harmonie Ensemble/New York. Now go shop!

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