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JoAnn Falletta: ‘What this Gershwin recording means to me’

February 1, 2012

JoAnn Falletta

The music of George Gershwin may very well have been the first music to enter my consciousness as a child. This jazzy, soaring, sensuous music seemed knit into the fabric of the New York City in which I grew up, almost part of the concrete skyscrapers and intriguing nightclubs of Harlem, a kind of musical counterpoint to the rhythm of the restless and pulsing urban life there. More than that, Gershwin’s music was for me the American vernacular—our sinewy and joyous voice—both hard-edged and meltingly lyrical.

It seemed a natural choice to record his music with the Buffalo Philharmonic, an orchestra of American musicians who understand that voice, who never counted the rhythms but swung to them with an intrinsic understanding that seemed part of their physical makeup. Recording Gershwin was a visceral delight—wailing, crooning, bopping to music that never fails to enchant us. In Orion Weiss we found a kindred spirit; a fantastic pianist who cherished Gershwin’s music and celebrated it with his unique combination of elegance and fire.

No other composer has ever equalled George Gershwin’s effortless and harmonious marriage of ‘highbrow’ classical music and its swinging seductive cousin, American jazz. And Gershwin himself reached the pinnacle of this astonishing blend of aesthetics in his music for piano and orchestra.

Piano was his instrument, from the day the barefoot six-year old fell in love with a player piano in a shop window, through his work as a ‘song plugger’ (plunking out the latest tunes on the sidewalks of Tin Pan Alley in New York City) to his history-making première of Rhapsody in Blue with the Paul Whiteman Band. But the very success of that ground-breaking piece has in some ways overshadowed his other works for piano and orchestra, which are extraordinary concertos in their own right.

Composed less than a year after Rhapsody in Blue, the Concerto in F has been acknowledged as one of the most important works of the 20th century. The work combined the smoky pathos of the Blues and the infectious rhythm of the Charleston with a dreamy portrait of a sultry southern night, sprinkled liberally with Gershwin’s own sense of humour. That première attracted the highest level of American musicians; Rachmaninov and Heifetz were only two of the many celebrities who applauded this wonderful piece on that evening.

Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody started life as a part of the score for the movie Delicious, but when the composer returned to New York from his stint in Hollywood, he decided to expand the work into a serious concerto. Originally considering the title Rhapsody in Rivets (due to his fascination with the rapidly growing number of skyscrapers in New York), Gershwin eventually chose the simple and dignified title of Second Rhapsody.

On the tenth anniversary of Rhapsody in Blue, Gershwin embarked on a 28-city tour, and he composed a new piece for the celebration. Choosing one of his most beloved tunes—I Got Rhythm—he wrote an inspired collection of variations that set the melody as a waltz, as a Chinese caricature, as a blues variation and explored other sophisticated and fascinating rhythmic complexities as well.

The Buffalo Philharmonic and I were thrilled to perform and record this music with brilliant American pianist Orion Weiss, whose passion for Gershwin and own vibrant personality made the music glow as a fresh tribute to one of the great geniuses of the 20th century.

JoAnn Falletta Biography & Discography

George Gershwin Biography & Discography


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