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Nightclub Sounds in the Concert Hall? That's Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F

Getty Images/Hutton Archive
George Gershwin circa 1930

In 1925, George Gershwin was known for his popular songs, Broadway music, and his Rhapsody in Blue. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, he then tackled another classical form with his Piano Concerto in F.

Conductor James Gaffigan talks about his fascination with Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F.

On Sunday, July 4th at 1 pm on WRTI 90.1 and Monday, July 5th at 7 pm on WRTI's HD-2 channel, conductor James Gaffigan leads The Philadelphia Orchestra in a performance of Gershwin's Piano Concerto with soloist Jon Kimura Parker.

It's extremely American in that it celebrates jazz.

Starting with kettledrums and percussion, a rhythmic pulse pounds. Gershwin was making a statement with his Piano Concerto in F,  and he orchestrated it himself, which was unusual, says conductor James Gaffigan.

"Normally, he would hire someone to do the orchestral parts, but he had his own vision for this particular piece."

It was a vision expressed by Gershwin in a program note, where he wrote about representing the “young enthusiastic spirit of American life.”

"It’s extremely American in that it celebrates jazz."  A celebration with piano, and what Gaffigan calls a fascinating use of the orchestra.

"The way he uses the percussion instruments. There are slapstick, bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, and timpani of course. But the way he combines the instruments, like a back-up band: two clarinets and a bass clarinet and a solo trumpet playing with a hat.  It’s like we’re in a nightclub. It’s an incredible effect."

The concerto, a commission from conductor Walter Damrosch for the New York Symphony, was written in Chautauqua, New York, in the summer of 1925, and premiered at Carnegie Hall that December.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.