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Program Notes: An Evening of Gershwin (Oct. 4-6)

Posted Friday, September 27, 2013 in Program Notes

By Daniel Felsenfeld

Buy tickets now for An Evening of Gershwin >>

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Meet Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik >>


October 4 & 5, 2013 at 8:00pm
October 6, 2013 at 2:30pm

Jeff Tyzik, conductor
Kevin Cole
, piano


Gershwin, arr. Rose                       Overture to Funny Face

Gershwin, arr. Tyzik                      Five Preludes

Gregory Raden, clarinet

Gershwin                                          An American in Paris




Gershwin                                          Cuban Overture ("Rhumba")

Gershwin, arr. Tyzik                      Lullaby for String Orchestra

Gershwin, arr. Grofé                     Rhapsody in Blue
Keven Cole, piano


by Daniel Felsenfeld

For these notes online, visit and click on Program Notes.

"True music must repeat the thought and inspirations of the people and the time. My people are Americans and my time is today."

-George Gershwin

When a "serious" composer works in a more vernacular form, music lovers generally respond positively. We do not fault Mozart his serenades, Bach his dance suites, or Beethoven his Bagatelles. But the move from the other direction, from pop music to more serious fare, tends to be more problematic. The talents of American composer George Gershwin (1898-1937) are hardly up for discussion, but the proper context in which to hear his music - pops program? Broadway stage? Concert hall? Opera house? - remains a matter of some debate.

Much of this is because Gershwin died young, age 38, before he could fully fulfill his promise. If, say, Porgy and Bess were his first opera and he had gone on to write two symphonies and a string quartet, the conversation would be different. "Gershwin's tragedy," said Leonard Bernstein, "was not that he failed to cross the tracks, but rather that he did, and once there in his new habitat, was deprived of the chance to plunge his roots firmly into the new soil." And despite his obvious gifts, Gershwin aspired to more. For all his Broadway and Hollywood success, Jacob Gershowitz, the Brooklyn kid who started as a song plugger in Tin Pan Alley, always yearned to be "taken seriously."

"I don't think there's been such an inspired melodist on this earth since Tchaikovsky."

-Leonard Bernstein

The Hollywood image of Gershwin-the elegant bon-vivant, the working stiff made good-was never the truth. His was a life invested in writing and playing music. He wanted to study composition with Maurice Ravel - who legend has it, replied that, given Gershwin's popularity and wealth, it was he who ought to be studying with Gershwin. (Ravel was intrigued by the potential of jazz to influence his own music, and respected Gershwin's music as well as his success. "Personally I find jazz most interesting: the rhythms, the way the melodies are handled, the melodies themselves. I have heard of George Gershwin's works and I find them intriguing," Ravel said.) He also wanted to study with Nadia Boulanger, the teacher of everyone from Aaron Copland to Philip Glass to Quincy Jones. She refused to teach him because she did not want to weigh down his gifts with too much technique.

Early success

A natural ease was apparent in Gershwin's music from the beginning. He is justly famous for now-legendary sophisticated songs, some of which-"I Got Rhythm" and "Embraceable You," to name just two-were written for the 1930 show Girl Crazy. (The show would go on to make stars of Ginger Rogers and Ethel Merman and was also the first musical to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize). But it was at the earliest stage of his career he wrote a rag called Rialto Ripples, which was among his first successes. Also early on he wrote a piece for himself, the Lullaby, which languished on his shelf and was later transcribed for harmonica and string quartet-and eventually made by DSO Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik into the string orchestra version to be heard tonight.

A few years later, in 1924, he wrote a piano concerto called Rhapsody in Blue, for himself to perform in front of Paul Whiteman's jazz orchestra, which made him the proverbial toast of the town. It could not be a more aptly titled work-rhapsody being a free-flowing form with few rules (as opposed to, say, "concerto", "sonata" or "symphony" all of which come with specific obligations). Though Bernstein was one of Gershwin's staunchest admirers, about this piece he said, famously, "The Rhapsody is not a composition at all. It's a string of separate paragraphs stuck together - with a thin paste of flour and water."

In 1926, Gershwin premiered his jazz-soaked solo piano Preludes in New York City. He meant to write twenty four, but only managed five, here orchestrated by Maestro Tyzik. Though both Preludes and Rhapsody in Blue relied heavily on the sounds and rhythms of jazz, a world that Gershwin knew from the inside as a performer, he still held that "An entire composition written in jazz could not live." Though fully-imbued with jazz idioms and feeling, these works stand firmly on the "classical" side of the line.

An American classic is born

Gershwin spent some time in Paris during the mid-1920s-trying and failing to be allowed to study with Ravel or Boulanger-and it was there he turned out his breezy symphonic tone poem An American in Paris. He preferred to call the piece a "rhapsodic ballet." "My purpose here," he said, "is to portray the impressions of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city, listens to the various street noises, and absorbs the French atmosphere." It was premiered at Carnegie Hall on a concert alongside more standard classical fare-pieces by Wagner and Franck-where many felt it did not belong, including Gershwin. "It's not a Beethoven symphony," he said. "It's a humorous piece, nothing solemn about it. It's not intended to draw tears. If it pleases symphony audiences as a light, jolly piece, a series of impressions musically expressed, it succeeds." A few years later the score gained widespread popularity after it was featured in the famous dance scene on the Seine in the Gene Kelly movie An American in Paris. And its place in the orchestral repertoire was secured.

Art and commerce

Gershwin's serious aspirations aside, he never lost touch with his commercial work. It was around the time of these symphonic and pianistic experiments that he wrote the musical Funny Face, which includes the songs "S'Wonderful" and "My One and Only" and starred Fred and Adele Astaire. The extracted songs aside, the show, though it ran on Broadway for a while, was not a huge hit, a fault blamed on its flimsy premise.

"We had discussed it," said Astaire, "and finally came round to having an idea written up whereby I would be the legal guardian of three girls, one, of course, being Adele. Her romance would concern another fellow. This seemed to be a good idea, but we had no thought about what would happen from there on."

In 1932, the world famous and well-moneyed Gershwin began studying with Joseph Schillinger, a strict mathematical composer whose theories some say predate Schoenberg's twelve-tone method. It is a credit to Gershwin both that he undertook such study at this point in his life, but also that it did not spoil his individual sound. The Cuban Overture was the first piece written under his guiding hand. Originally titled "Rumba," Gershwin said it was "inspired by a short visit to Havana." It was premiered at Lewisohn Stadium in New York (since demolished) on an all-Gershwin concert attended by 18,000 people. All of his hard work and serious intentions paid off. Gershwin's place at the center of American music was - and remains - secure.


--Daniel Felsenfeld is a composer who lives in Brooklyn

Jeff Tyzik

Principal Pops conductor

The Dot and Paul Mason Principal Pops Conductor's Podium

Jeff TyzikGrammy Award winner Jeff Tyzik is one of America's most innovative and sought after pops conductors. Tyzik is recognized for his brilliant arrangements, original programming, and engaging rapport with audiences of all ages. In August 2013, Jeff Tyzik was named to The Dot and Paul Mason Principal Pops Conductor's Podium at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. This season, he also begins a new role as Principal Pops Conductor of the Seattle Symphony, the Detroit Symphony and The Florida Orchestra. In the 2013/14 concert season, Tyzik will celebrate his 20th season as Principal Pops Conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and continues to serve as Principal Pops Conductor of the Oregon Symphony.

Highly sought after as a guest conductor, Tyzik has appeared with the Boston Pops, Cincinnati Pops, Milwaukee Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Toronto Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Tyzik made his UK debut in 2010 with the Royal ScottishNational Orchestra.

In May 2007, the Harmonia Mundi label released his recording of works by Gershwin with pianist Jon Nakamatsu and the RPO which stayed in the Top 10 on the Billboard classical chart for over 3 months. Alex Ross of The New Yorker, called it "one of the snappiest Gershwin discs in years". "His concert is the kind of thing that's likely to give classical music a good name, perhaps even make it seem, dare I say, relevant," writes John Pitcher of the Gannet News Service.

As an accomplished composer and arranger, Tyzik has had his compositions recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Summit Brass, Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Vancouver Symphony and Doc Severinsen with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London. He has also produced and composed theme music for many of the major television networks, including ABC, NBC, HBO, and Cinemax, and released six of his own albums on Capitol, Polygram and Amherst Records.

Tyzik worked closely with Doc Severinsen on many projects including orchestrating many of the great band leader's symphony orchestra programs, and producing a GRAMMY Award-winning album, The Tonight Show Band with Doc Severinsen, Vol. 1. Tyzik's subsequent recordings with Severinsen garnered three more GRAMMY nominations.

In his twenty years with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Tyzik has written over 200 arrangements, orchestrations and compositions for orchestra. A consummate musician, Tyzik regularly appears as a guest conductor in the orchestra's classical subscription series. He has also been commissioned to compose original works for orchestra, including a Trombone Concerto, which was funded by a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts and subsequently performed at Carnegie Hall. Tyzik conducted the world premiere of his original work New York Cityscapes with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in 2010.

Tyzik composed a Timpani Concerto, commissioned by the RPO, and also led the RPO in the premiere of his new orchestral suite: Images (Musical Impressions of an Art Gallery) to rave reviews.

A native of Hyde Park, New York, Tyzik began his life in music at nine years of age, when he first picked up a cornet. He studied both classical and jazz throughout high school, and went on to earn both his bachelor's and master's degrees from the Eastman School of Music, where he studied composition/ arranging with Radio City Music Hall's Ray Wright and jazz studies with Chuck Mangione. Tyzik subsequently toured with Mangione as lead trumpet and worked on five Mangione recordings as a producer and performer from 1976 to 1981.

Committed to performing music of all genres, Tyzik has collaborated with such diverse artists as Chris Botti, Matthew Morrison, Wynonna Judd, Tony Bennett, Art Garfunkel, Dawn Upshaw, Marilyn Horne, Arturo Sandoval, The Chieftains, Mark O'Connor, Doc Severinsen, John Pizzarelli and has created

numerous original programs that include the greatest music from jazz and classical to Motown, Broadway, film, dance, Latin and swing.

For more information about Jeff Tyzik, please visit



Kevin Cole


America's pianist Kevin Cole has delighted audiences with a repertoire that includes the best of 20th Century American Music. Kevin Cole's performances, especially his interpretation of Gershwin, have prompted accolades from some of the foremost critics in America. "When Cole sits down at the piano, you would swear Gershwin himself was at work… Cole stands as the best Gershwin pianist in America today," wrote Howard Reich, arts critic for the Chicago Tribune. Critic Andrew Patner wrote: "A piano genius...he reveals an understanding of harmony, rhythmic complexity and pure show-biz virtuosity that would have had Vladimir Horowitz smiling with envy."

Kevin recently performed with the Nashville Symphony in a concert, Gershwin at One Symphony Place, which aired on PBS nationwide March 2009. Other engagements for Cole include sold-out performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, BBC Concert Orchestra at Royal Albert Hall, National Symphony at the Kennedy Center, San Francisco Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra (London), Boston Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, New Zealand Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Edmonton Symphony (Canada) and many others. He has shared the concert stage with notables from opera greats William Warfield and Sylvia McNair to Broadway legends Barbara Cook and Marvin Hamlisch.

Kevin Cole is an award-winning musical director, arranger, composer, vocalist and archivist who garnered the praises of Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg, Hugh Martin, Burton Lane, Stephen Sondheim and members of the Jerome Kern and Gershwin families. He has worked as vocal arranger/accompanist for opera and musical theatre performers Sylvia McNair, Dawn Upshaw, Brian D'Arcy James, Karen Morrow, Christine Andreas, Hollis Resnik, Kim Criswell and William Warfield.

Kevin has given Master Classes in musical theatre vocal performance at Interlochen Center for the Arts and North Carolina School of the Arts. He has served as Musical Director for Pasadena Playhouse, Michigan Ensemble Theatre, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival and Royal George Theatre (Chicago). Kevin currently works with songwriting legend Hugh Martin. Mr. Martin was vocal coach to Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, Judy Garland and many others.

His discography includes Gramophone Musical Album of the Year, 1995, Gershwin's Oh, Kay! with soprano Dawn Upshaw (Elektra/Nonesuch) and Lady Be Good- First Recordings of the Unknown George Gershwin (Pro Arte); The Song Is You with The Carolyn Mawby Chorale, his critically acclaimed solo piano disc, Cole Plays Gershwin and his just released vocal debut album In The Words Of Ira-The Songs of Ira Gershwin .

Visit Kevin at


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