“Chapter One. He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion. No, make that, he-he romanticized it all out of proportion. Yeah. To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white, and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin.” – Woody Allen, “Manhattan” (1979)
Allen’s great opening sequence to “Manhattan” is set to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” and when the flippant clarinet trills over the establishing skyline shots before Allen begins his narration and the street scenes start flying, it never fails to feel to me like I’m watching the film, seeing those shots, and hearing “Rhapsody in Blue” for the first time.
If you’re a Gershwin fan (maybe Woody Allen’s not your thing, but you’re gaga for “Gremlins 2: The New Batch?”), you’re in luck Friday night. Pianist Kevin Cole, an authority on Gershwin whose playing style has been compared favorably to the composer’s own, is subbing in for Markus Groh (who fell ill) with the Louisville Orchestra on “Rhapsody in Blue,” featuring principal clarinet Andrea Levine on that delightful intro.
Tomorrow’s show starts at 8 p.m. in the Kentucky Center’s Whitney Hall. It’s conducted by Robert Moody, the music director of the Winston-Salem Symphony in North Carolina and an exceptionally fun conductor to watch.
I caught this morning’s coffee classics concert performance (pro tip: you can’t take your Krispy Kreme into the concert hall, so wolf it down before last seating call), where Cole gave a brief history of “Rhapsody in Blue,” which goes a little something like this: in 1923, Gershwin’s buddy Paul Whiteman tells him he wants to stage a concert that will define jazz. Gershwin says “sure,” then … promptly forgets. In January of 1924, Gershwin’s brother Ira reads a little newspaper notice about the concert, which includes a mention of the “jazz concerto” Gershwin had allegedly written for the program, which, by the way, was scheduled for the following month. Problem? Not for Gershwin, who ended up with a lightning bolt of inspiration on a train trip that led to “Rhapsody in Blue,” which Whiteman conducted with reportedly large swaths of piano solo left blank. “Wait for the nod,” Gershwin noted to Whiteman (surely terrified by the open space) in his score.
Moody doesn’t have to wait for the nod from Cole, who does adds in some previously-lost measures the score publisher originally removed for brevity’s sake. (No respect!) Cole is the kind of performer who justifies the live production: it’s not just about live sound vs. recordings, it’s about watching how, exactly, an individual, gifted player’s hands move across the keys.
Another unexpected delight: Anthony Ross, the powerhouse principal cello for the Minnesota Orchestra (whose players have been on a lockout for more than a year in an ongoing labor dispute) is sitting in as well. He’s front and center, with an especially stirring contribution to Christopher Theofanidis’ invigorating “Rainbow Body,” which opens the program. The second half of the show is Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 Op 27 in E Minor.
Here’s a little Allen set to Gershwin to start you humming and thinking about that next trip to New York, which doesn’t really look like this anymore, but you can still romanticize it all out of proportion if you like.