The American composer George Gershwin, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, was deflected from street games in down-town Manhattan into music by the family purchase of a piano in 1910. Four years later he had left school to earn a living as a pianist and song-plugger in Tin Pan Alley, before long contributing his own songs with growing success. With some tuition in the techniques of composition he turned his attention, at the same time, to music of a less immediate commercial appeal. His principal contemporary reputation, however, rested largely on the songs he wrote for Broadway with his brother Ira Gershwin, both aspects of his career coming together in his black opera Porgy and Bess, which he started to write when he was at the height of his commercial fame, in 1934.
It was ten years earlier, in 1924, that Gershwin had responded to a commission from Paul Whiteman, an exponent of symphonic jazz, for a concerto for piano and jazz band. The result was Rhapsody in Blue, a work that represents a step in the American search for a musical identity. It was orchestrated for Gershwin by Whiteman's arranger Ferde Grof�. Whiteman himself had enjoyed an earlier career as a viola-player in major American orchestras in Denver and San Francisco, before becoming one of the best known of the post-War band-leaders. Gershwin's jazz concerto was given its first performance at Whiteman's first concert, held at the Aeolian Hall, New York, when it achieved success in musical surroundings that seemed distinctly unfavourable, as Whiteman attempted to convince an unsympathetic audience of the viability of his form of jazz. With its bow to Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, Rhapsody in Blue remains thoroughly American in its melodies and rhythms and enjoys continued popularity in the concert hall, a souvenir from a Golden age of jazz, to which it had made its own contribution.
One immediate result of the appearance of the Rhapsody in Blue, which incidentally owes its first famous clarinet glissando to the inspiration of Whiteman's clarinettist Ross Gorman, whose light-hearted addition replaced a simple chromatic scale, was a commission from Walter Damrosch, conductor of the New York Symphony Orchestra, for another concerto. Gershwin claimed to have orchestrated the Concerto in F himself, although it has been suggested that he may have had help here and elsewhere from one of his former teachers, Joseph Schillinger. The composer was anxious enough to show that the Rhapsody in Blue had been no mere accident and set out, with the aid of a text-book on concerto form, to prove himself. The Concerto opens in unmistakably jazz idiom. The first movement, which makes considerable use of the fashionable Charleston, is an attractive excursion into virtuoso piano writing, cunningly blended with the language of the jazz piano, that for contemporary European composers had been little more than a superficial influence. It has, at the same time, other elements that we might associate with Broadway, rather than with the big band, with which the work opens. The slow movement is a languishing blues, which finds a place for characteristic instrumental solos from the orchestra, before the emergence of the piano, against a stepping bass. This is followed by a lively final movement, depending, as does the rest of the concerto, on its tunes as much as their musical treatment or attempted development. The Concerto has had a variable reception over the years and has never proved a serious rival to the Rhapsody in Blue. Nevertheless it offers music in a thoroughly American language that is much more than a flash in Tin Pan Alley.
An American in Paris was completed in 1928 and proved a decidedly unsuitable contribution to the concerts given at meetings of the International Society for Contemporary Music, accustomed, as its members were, to a more austere musical diet. The work, replete with the nostalgia felt by the expatriate American in Paris, includes a highly characteristic blues for the trumpet. It is, in any case, very familiar from its use in Gene Kelly's 1951 film of the same name, with which the music is now unavoidably associated.
The Australian pianist, Kathryn Selby, studied with Nancy Sales at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music at the age of nine before being awarded, in 1976, a Winston Churchill Memorial Fellowship. Two years later she won the American Music Scholarship and made her debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
In 1981 she received the Australia Council's International Fellowship for Studies in the United States and graduated in 1983 from Bryn Mawr College. She has won many other distinctions including the Curtis Institute's prestigious Rachmaninov Prize and the Juilliard School of Music's Mozart competition. She has performed all over the world and with some of the leading orchestras such as the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. She is currently artist-in-residence at Macquarie University and will shortly begin teaching chamber music at the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music.
America's favourite "Pops" conductor, Richard Hayman is Principal "Pops" Conductor of the Saint Louis, Hartford and Grand Rapids symphony orchestras, of Orchestra London Canada and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, and also held that post with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for many years.
His original compositions are standards in the repertoire of these ensembles as well as frequently-performed selections of many orchestras and bands throughout the world.
For over 30 years, Mr. Hayman served as the chief arranger for the Boston Pops Orchestra during Arthur Fiedler's tenure, providing special arrangements for dozens of their hit albums and famous singles. Under John Williams' direction, the orchestra continues to program his award-winning arrangements and orchestrations.
During the past several years, Mr. Hayman has been concentrating most of his time on guest-conducting special "Pops" concerts. He is reinvited, season after season, by all the leading orchestras across the United States and Canada to conduct these popular entertainments during their regular seasons, as well as for their summer festivals.
ReviewsKathryn Selby makes a strong showing in the Gershwin Concerto - Fanfare