For International Jazz Day, works by Marsalis, Gershwin and Ravel, via The Philadelphia Orchestra
Join us on Sunday, April 30 at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1 and Monday, May 1 at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2 as The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert celebrates International Jazz Day (April 30) with concert performances from recent seasons.
International Jazz Day was created by UNESCO to highlight jazz and its diplomatic role of uniting people in all corners of the globe. This week’s edition of The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert explores the influence of jazz in classical concert music, with George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major, and Wynton Marsalis’ Tuba Concerto. Soloists include pianists Aaron Diehl and Kirill Gerstein, and the orchestra’s principal tuba player, Carol Jantsch. Marsalis is further represented by excerpts from his Blues Symphony, led by conductor Christian Macelaru.
At the beginning of the 2021/2022 season, pianist Aaron Diehl joined The Philadelphia Orchestra and its music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, to play Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. This “jazz concerto” caused a sensation at its 1924 premiere, when it was presented in New York’s Aeolian Hall, then home to the New York Symphony Society, by a jazz orchestra directed by popular bandleader Paul Whiteman. Rhapsody in Blue melded classical traditions and orchestration with the Tin Pan Alley songwriting world that had been Gershwin’s milieu. He was the piano soloist at the premiere, playing before a capacity audience that included such classical luminaries as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Leopold Stokowski, and Jascha Heifetz. The subsequent recording made Gershwin a household name at 25. In form, the Rhapsody consists of a series of songs evoking Broadway style, connected by virtuoso passages for the pianist. And of course there is that remarkable, signature clarinet solo introduction.
American jazz titan Wynton Marsalis penned a new concerto in 2021 for The Philadelphia Orchestra’s principal tuba player, Carol Jantsch. She premiered it late the same year, with Yannick Nézet-Séguin on the podium. This concerto explores virtuosity through a new lens, showcasing an instrument generally viewed as a supporting player. It’s a tour de force for the tuba, with breathtaking runs and affecting lyricism that are typical of concertos in the classical realm. At the same time, its four movements offer the soloist the chance to display prowess in jazz-flavored idioms like blues, boogaloo, and bebop. The latter comes to the fore in the finale, a movement added at Jantsch’s request. “In Bird’s Basement” features stunningly speedy solo lines that recall the flights of virtuosity displayed by Charlie Parker, the legendary saxophonist and bebop pioneer (nicknamed “Yardbird,” and better known as Bird).
Pianist Kirill Gerstein is the soloist in Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto, led by guest conductor Louis Langree in a 2018 performance. Gerstein, who has long played jazz in addition to the classical concerto canon, hears jazz “in the perfume” of this work, as he put it in an interview with WRTI’s Susan Lewis.
In 1928, Ravel made his only visit to America, spending four months here and traveling to some 20 cities for concerts featuring the American premieres of his orchestral works. In between concerts, he soaked up the jazz and blues that had long fascinated him from a distance. Visiting New Orleans, he reveled in ragtime. In New York he lost no time in catching a Gershwin musical on Broadway, and was delighted to meet the composer a few days later. They spent several evenings together listening to jazz in Harlem, and formed a mutual admiration society. Gershwin even asked Ravel to give him lessons in composition. Ravel refused for the best of reasons, feeling that Gershwin’s distinctive musical voice might be watered down in the process. Shortly after Ravel returned to Paris, he proved that he had learned from Gershwin — beginning work on the Piano Concerto in G major, in which the impact of his American experience is immediately apparent.
This special edition of The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert closes with excerpts from another work by Wynton Marsalis. His Second Symphony, composed in 2010, evokes the blues in its many forms, but presented in a symphonic context. In 2019 the Philadelphia Orchestra performed this “Blues Symphony” under the direction of Cristian Măcelaru. We’ll hear three of the work’s seven movements. The first is called “Born in Hope”; the third is called “Reconstruction Rag”; and the final movement is called “Dialogue in Democracy.”
Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue
Marsalis: Tuba Concerto
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G major
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nezet-Seguin, conductor
Louis Langree, conductor
Christian Macelaru, conductor
Aaron Diehl, piano
Kirill Gerstein, piano
Carol Jantsch, tuba
WRTI PRODUCTION TEAM:
Melinda Whiting: Host
Alex Ariff: Senior Producer
Susan Lewis: Consulting Producer
Joseph Patti: Broadcast Engineer
Listen to The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcasts every Sunday at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1, streaming at WRTI.org, on the WRTI mobile app, and on your smart speaker. Listen again on Mondays at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2. Listen for up to two weeks after broadcast on WRTI Replay or above by clicking the "on demand" play button.