Palm Court rhapsodizes in blue

Pianist Frederick Hodges entertains the Cowichan Theatre crowd during a 2009 guest slot with the Palm Court Orchestra. - Andrew Leong/file
Pianist Frederick Hodges entertains the Cowichan Theatre crowd during a 2009 guest slot with the Palm Court Orchestra.
— image credit: Andrew Leong/file

These days it's not particularly usual to hear George Gershwin's signature piece in the small orchestra setting for which it was originally composed.

But Rhapsody in Blue from the Palm Court Light Orchestra and guest pianist Frederick Hodges will change that Sunday.

Hodges will provide the solo dexterity for Rhapsody, which has been re-orchestrated twice since it was first presented in 1924, as the PCO lays down the original backing.

"The Palm Court Orchestra is delighted to welcome back as their guest artist San Francisco pianist Frederick Hodges who first appeared with the orchestra three years ago when he wowed the audience with his virtuoso performances of ragtime favourites," an event media release states.

"Born in 1898, Gershwin was only 19 when he scored his first big national hit "Swanee." Al Jolson, the famous Broadway singer, heard Gershwin perform the song at a party and decided to sing it in one of his shows. Gershwin wrote the Rhapsody in Blue in 1924 at the invitation of the bandleader Paul Whitman who was staging a concert entitled "An Experiment in Modern Music" at the Aeolian Hall in New York.

"Rhapsody was the piece which established Gershwin's reputation as a serious composer and has become one of the most popular American concert works of all time. He composed it in four weeks, inspired on a train journey to Boston, and handing the score to Paul Whitman's arranger Ferde Grofe to orchestrate seven days before the performance.

"Gershwin was the soloist at the concert which numbered critics and composers including Rachmaninov and Sousa in the audience. He had not written out the pianist's solo which he improvised – Whiteman simply had a note on his score "wait for the nod." In three year Whiteman's band had played the Rhapsody eighty-four times and its recording sold a million copies.

But the concert is more than just Hodges and Rhapsody. It is a showcase for Gershwin's entire career.

It will also feature other familiar Gershwin numbers including I Got Rhythm, Love Walked In, Embraceable You, But Not For Me and Fascinating Rhythm. The Palm Court will also play selections from his 1935 opera Porgy & Bess. Many of the songs such as I Got Plenty of Nothin', It Ain't Necessarily So, Bess, You Is My Woman Now, and Summertime have become jazz standards.

Rhapsody in Blue will be performed at the Cowichan Theatre, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013 at 2.30 pm.

Tickets are available at the Cowichan Theatre Box Office 250 748-7529

Further information is available here.

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