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Uniquely American: intriguing relationship between two musical genres—jazz and classical—at center of Pacific Symphony’s upcoming concerts, “Rhapsody in Blue”

Orange County, Calif. — March 10, 2016

“American Visions, American Voices”: Symphony concerts are part of Interplay collaboration with Chapman University exploring George Gershwin and Charles Ives

Music Director Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony, together with Artistic Adviser Joseph Horowitz, set out to design a concert that inspires new understanding of the rocky union between classical and jazz, the desire to create “American” music and the legendary composers who made it possible. The program includes two classical pieces influenced by jazz and one that forged its American voice through similar influences: George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major and Charles Ives’ Second Symphony, which alludes to popular American folks tunes. The concert also includes popular American and French songs sung by baritone William Sharp. “Rhapsody in Blue” and Piano Concerto in G Major both feature American pianist Simone Dinnerstein, whom NPR has said: “…compels the listener to follow her in a journey of discovery filled with unscheduled detours…the result is a wonderfully expressive interpretation.”

“Rhapsody in Blue” takes place Thursday through Saturday, April 7-9, at 8 p.m. in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Tickets range from $25-$110. This concert is preceded by “An Ives Experience” at 7 p.m., featuring Alan Chapman, actor David Prather as Charles Ives, and Chapman University students performing the music that Ives knew and incorporated into his own compositions. Then, on April 10, at 3 p.m., Sunday Casual Connections offers a matinee performance of “Rhapsody and Blue” and Ravel’s Piano Concerto featuring Dinnerstein. Tickets for this concert, entitled “Gershwin’s Rhapsody,” are $25-$96. A pre-concert presentation at 1:30 p.m. features Chapman professor Wendy Salmond and Horowitz discussing Gershwin’s relationship with his contemporaries in both visual arts and music. For more information or to purchase tickets, please call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org. Support for this program is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

These concerts are part of the Interplay festival “American Visions, American Voices,” a collaboration between Chapman University and Pacific Symphony focusing on Ives and Gershwin. Taking place through April, the festival explores how these composers and their contemporaries created a uniquely “American voice” by drawing on the sights and sounds around them during this fascinating period of the country’s history. Guest artists and lecturers include baritone Sharp, pianist Steven Mayer, actor Prather and Horowitz, along with Chapman faculty and students. The festival includes on-campus lectures, performances, master classes and a semester-long honors course, as well as the Symphony’s concerts. For a complete schedule of events, please see the end of the release or visit www.chapman.edu/interplay.

Tin Pan Alley met Carnegie Hall when Gershwin (1898-1937) married classical music to the most unique of American art forms, jazz. French composer Ravel’s (1875-1937) piano concerto is also heavily influenced by jazz. “In both Ravel’s Concerto in G and in Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ many jazz influences can be found,’” says Maestro St.Clair. “Jazz elements of rhythm and harmony prevail in both works. From the famous opening glissando from the clarinet in the ‘Rhapsody’ to the snap of the slap sticks to begin the Concerto in G, we are awakened to a new world filled with excitement, flash and energy.”

It was during Gershwin’s early years as a Broadway-song composer that “Rhapsody in Blue” received its premiere at an educational concert, “An Experiment in Modern Music,” intended to demonstrate that jazz deserved to be taken seriously. Just five weeks before the concert, George’s brother Ira read in the New York Tribune that George was “at work on a jazz concerto” for the program. It was news to George, who scrambled to compose something. His own piano part went unwritten and had to be improvised during the performance.

The concert featured didactic segments (e.g., “Contrast: Legitimate Scoring vs. Jazzing”), causing the audience to grow restless—until Gershwin captivated the audience with a performance of his new piece, “Rhapsody in Blue.” The music defied classification. Was it classical or jazz or something else entirely? The famous two-and-a-half-octave glissando made “Rhapsody” as instantly recognizable as Beethoven’s Fifth. The New York Times wrote: “This composition shows extraordinary talent, just as it also shows a young composer with aims that go far beyond those of his ilk.”

Gershwin had always hoped to transcend the category of popular music; “Rhapsody” became regarded as among the most important American musical works of its time, and the Gershwin brothers’ songwriting partnership became synonymous with the sounds and style of the Jazz Age. It would also influence a whole generation of major composers—from Aaron Copeland to Ravel—to draw on jazz elements in their own important works.

“There is a close connection between Gershwin and Ravel,” says St.Clair. “Gershwin once asked to take lessons from Ravel, and Ravel’s response was, in short: Why be a second rate Ravel when you can be a first-rate Gershwin? And Gershwin’s relationship with Paris (he wrote ‘An American in Paris’) is also well documented. Gershwin was infatuated with Ravel's ability to orchestrate and to paint colors with orchestral sounds.” 

Ravel grew increasingly enamored with jazz. In 1928, while on a tour of North America, he met Gershwin, broadening his exposure to jazz. Several of his most important later works, such as the Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano and Piano Concerto in G, show the influence of that interest. The latter became a jazz-infused work in ways similar to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody” and Piano Concerto in F (1925).

According to Horowitz, “Ravel’s concerto is a marvel of freshness, originality and refinement. It absorbs a wide range of colorful influences—prominently including jazz—and turns everything into divine Ravel.” Ravel, in turn, was among Gershwin’s greatest admirers. In 1928, Ravel told The New York Times, “I think you know that I greatly admire and value—more, I think, than many American composers—American jazz.”

Ives (1874-1954)—an insurance man by day for most of his music-writing career—worked to craft a style that reflected the American landscape and its history. This was his goal when, in 1890, he began his Second Symphony—two years after finishing his First. It took him nine years to complete. The work references American folk tunes, including “Camptown Races,” “Turkey in the Straw” and “America the Beautiful.” It also employs hymns, fiddle tunes, patriotic songs, vernacular music and European tradition Ives saw threading through the patchwork history of America. He successfully melded the European Romantic tradition with the character of American melody.

“The earlier Symphony No. 2 by Ives is similar to the program’s other pieces in that it, too, uses influences from other genres—not the world of jazz, but of song,” St.Clair says. “Ives utilizes not only quotes from popular American tunes, but there are some loose quotes and uses of musical material from Beethoven, Brahms, Bach and even from Wagner. Although Ives was alienated from the American classical music establishment, he had great awareness and knowledge of music. It took about 50 years for this symphony, completed in 1901, to get its premiere. Leonard Bernstein led the performance, but Ives, himself, was not present.” 

“If this is ‘early Ives,’” says Horowitz of Ives’ Second, “it far surpasses any previous American symphony, and remains a pinnacle of American symphonic achievement.” Horowitz believes a strong case can be made that the most remarkable American composers of classical music are Ives and Gershwin. “Both fashioned a distinctive, uniquely American musical voice.”

Pacific Symphony’s Classical series performances are made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation, with additional support from the Avenue of the Arts Hotel, KUSC and PBS SoCal. The April 7 concert is sponsored by David and Tara Troob and the April 8 concert is sponsored by Christopher Tower and Robert E. Celio, Jr.

 

INTERPLAY 2016: American Visions, American Voices Schedule of Events

Ives in Song

March 31, 11:30 a.m.
Salmon Recital Hall, Chapman University
Free and open to the public

11:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.: “Charles Ives: A Life in Music” featuring acclaimed baritone William Sharp and Pacific Symphony Artistic Adviser Joseph Horowitz.

12 – 1:30 p.m.: William Sharp works with Chapman students to refine their own interpretations of songs they have prepared for performance at the Musco Center for the Arts.

 

Musco Center for the Arts Open House and Community Arts Day

April 2, 4:30 p.m.
Musco Center for the Arts, Chapman University
Free and open to the public 

A multimedia showcase featuring the music of American maverick Charles Ives and the ever-popular George Gershwin. Come experience the largest collaboration in the history of the College of Performing Arts including The Chapman Orchestra, Chapman Wind Symphony, Faculty Brass Quartet, the Chapman String Quartet as well as dancers and actors from the departments of Dance and Theatre, with script by Joseph Horowitz and visuals by Peter Bogdanoff, on behalf of Pacific Symphony.

 

A Transcendental Masterpiece

April 3, 2 p.m.
Musco Center for the Arts, Chapman University

Tickets are $20 General Admission; $15 Senior 65+; $10 Students (limit 2 per ID). To purchase, visit http://chapman.universitytickets.com/user_pages/event.asp?id=1064&cid=68.

Steven Mayer, piano
William Sharp, reader
Chapman University Singers—Stephen Coker, conductor

Readings culled by Joseph Horowitz, Pacific Symphony artistic adviser

Charles Ives: Piano Sonata No. 2 (Concord Sonata)
Charles Ives: Sixty-Seventh Psalm

Ives’ magisterial Concord Sonata (1919) was acclaimed at its 1939 premiere as “the greatest music composed by an American”—and ever since has mapped the summit of the American keyboard literature. Steven Mayer (“piano playing at its most awesome”—The New York Times) has performed this monumental work more than any other present-day pianist. Ives’ sonata is accompanied by readings from two writers who crucially influenced this work: Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. William Sharp (“a sensitive and subtle singer who evokes the special character of every song that he sings” —The New York Times) joins Mayer as actor and singer in this unique concert curated by Pacific Symphony, introduced by a choral setting of Psalm 67.

 

Huck Finn Meets Charles Ives

April 7, 11:30 a.m.
Salmon Recital Hall, Chapman University
Free and open to the public

A lecture by Pacific Symphony Artistic Advisor Joseph Horowitz explores the connections between Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Charles Ives’ Second Symphony.

 

Pacific Symphony: Ives and Gershwin

April 7, 8, 9, at 8 p.m. Pre-concert experience begins at 7 p.m.
Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall
Tickets are available at www.PacificSymphony.org.

Carl St.Clair, conductor
Joseph Horowitz, artistic adviser
William Sharp, baritone
Simone Dinnerstein, piano

Ives: Symphony No. 2
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G Major
Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue

This concert is preceded by a special pre-concert presentation featuring Alan Chapman, David Prather, William Sharp and Chapman University students, beginning at 7 p.m.

 

Pacific Symphony: Rhapsody!

April 10, 3 p.m.
Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall
Tickets are available at www.PacificSymphony.org.

Carl St.Clair, conductor
Joseph Horowitz, artistic adviser
Simone Dinnerstein, piano

Ravel: Piano Concerto in G Major

Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue

This concert is preceded by a special pre-concert presentation at 1:30 p.m. featuring Chapman University’s Professor Wendy Salmond and Joseph Horowitz discussing Gershwin’s relationship with his contemporaries in both visual arts and music.

Rhythmic Visions, Rhythmic Voices: An Evening of American Percussive Dance

The 2016 “Happy Chappy Tappy” presentation

April 16, 7 p.m.
Memorial Hall, Chapman University

A narrated performance to live music exploring the history and significance of this quintessentially American art form.

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