December 11, 2012
I don’t remember the first time I heard Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. There’s a good chance it was in commercials for United Airlines, since they’ve used it in their campaigns for a majority of my lifetime, and if it wasn’t there, it was probably in some other popular culture setting. Rhapsody in Blue is one of those iconic pieces of music that pops up everywhere – on TV, in movies, piped into stores at the mall. By the time I was in high school in the mid ’90s, I knew “Rhapsody in Blue,” and I liked it. Remember those CD clubs that were advertised in the Sunday paper? Where you get 8 CD’s for a penny (plus shipping and handling), if you commit to buying a bunch more at regular club prices? I picked a George Gershwin album as one of my 8 starter CDs when I enrolled, just to have a recording of Rhapsody in Blue. I still listen to that recording – it’s a solo piano version with Gershwin playing it himself, and I long ago uploaded it up my iPod. But you know what? I might be done with it. And that’s because LACO’s performance of it last weekend is something I don’t want to ever forget.
I’m not a scholar when it comes to orchestral music, and even though I’ve been attending LACO concerts for years now, most of the time I have no idea what I’m about to hear until they start playing it. I can only recognize a handful of classical pieces by name, so most of the time, when I’m perusing the program before the concert starts, none of it means anything to me. It may as well be written in another language. So, on the rare occasions that I am familiar with a piece on the LACO line-up, I get pretty stoked. And what LACO delivered on Sunday night in Royce Hall ended up being far beyond what I ever could have imagined.
Jeffrey Kahane led the Orchestra from the keyboard, which is always an incredible feat. But what was extraordinary, and completely eye-opening, was the orchestration. Kahane explained, before the piece began, that Gershwin always intended it to be played by a jazz band, but at some point, a full orchestra version was recorded, and soon thereafter it was the only version that was heard. I’ve never heard Rhapsody in Blue played by a jazz band, not before this concert, and it was a completely enthralling experience: playful, exuberant and utterly jaw-dropping. There were instruments that aren’t regulars on the LACO stage, like saxophone and tuba, and the energy that filled the hall was electrifying. Rhapsody in Blue is a marvel to begin with, and the LACO musicians brought it to life in a way that was simply revelatory. I don’t want to hear Rhapsody in Blue any other way ever again!
The rest of the evening was lovely. It started with a Dvořák Serenade for Winds, which was played by a relatively small ensemble – about 10 or 11 musicians, I think. I loved the opportunity to watch the wind musicians up close and personal, and the piece was evocative, with the third and fourth movements being my favorite. Then Kahane led the orchestra in Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite (a piece I’m slightly familiar with). After the intermission, and before Rhapsody in Blue was the Son of Chamber Symphony by John Adams, which I didn’t really care for. It seemed more like a collection of noises than a cohesive piece of music. I suspect it might quickly disappear from my memory, and that’s okay, because it’ll free up more space in my brain for my memories of the resplendent, concert-ending Rhapsody In Blue.