The Gershwin Moment

As I’ve had occasion to observe in my various George Gershwin blogs, Gershwin and J. S. Bach are the two composers most malleable in performance. There is no Gershwin style. And if there is, there’s full license to ignore it.

The most recent “PostClassical” broadcast on WWFM includes two little-known but essential Gershwin performances that break the mold. One is Otto Klemperer conducting his transcription of the Second Prelude as a dirge.  The other, from the same Hollywood Bowl Gershwin Memorial Concert of September 8, 1937, features Ruby Elzy, from the original Porgy and Bess cast, singing “My Man’s Gone Now.” Both calibrate shock and grief; Gershwin had been only 38. You can hear them at 48:52 and 57:18 of our broadcast.

Elzy, who was scheduled to sing Aida when she died in 1943 at the age of 35 from a botched operation (had she been white she would have had superior medical attention), is in Serena’s great lament an operatic Billie Holiday. For Porgy’s great lament – “Oh Bess, Oh Where’s My Bess,” my singer of choice is Lawrence Tibbett, the supreme American Verdi baritone, who recorded it in 1935 – that’s at 1:04:13.

The same PostClassical broadcast features Kirill Gerstein playing and discussing the improvised cadenza he interpolates in the Concerto in F on his terrific new Gershwin CD.

The broadcast is called “The Russian Gershwin” because most of the performances feature Russian- or Soviet-born artists: Gerstein, Jascha Heifetz, Genady Zagor, Vakhtang Kodanashvili. Gershwin was always  esteemed in Russia. Not so in the US, where American-born classical musicians long dismissed him as a dilettante, and orchestras marginalized him as a “pops” composer.

No longer. But we’re still catching up. Our broadcast concludes with Angel Gil-Ordonez’s fabulous PostClassical Ensemble performance of Gershwin’s Cuban Overture. Why in the world isn’t this piece better-known? Maybe – as I speculate at 50:15 of part two — it’s because the contrapuntal sophistication of Andalusian middle section long confounded notions of Gershwin the unschooled genius.



9:22 – George Gershwin speaks and plays

15:50 – Rhapsody in Blue performed by Genady Zagor and PostClassical Ensemble conducted by Angel Gil-Ordonez (with improvisations)

47:46 — Arnold Schoenberg’s eulogy for George Gershwin

48:52 — Gershwin’s Prelude No. 2, as arranged and conducted by Otto Klemperer at the Hollywood Bowl Gershwin Memorial Concert

57:18 – Ruby Elzy sings “My Man’s Gone Now” at the Gershwin Memorial Concert

1:04:13 – Lawrence Tibbett sings “Oh Bess, Oh Where’s My Bess”

1:10:21 – Jascha Heifetz plays his own arrangement of “Summertime”


00:00 – Kirill Gerstein plays Earl Wild’s arrangement of “I Got Rhythm”

4:24 – Kirill Gerstein’s improvised cadenza for the Gershwin concerto mvmt 2

6:41 – Gerstein discusses his cadenza

13:10 – Gershwin Piano Concerto, mvmt 2, performed by Gerstein and St. Louis Symphony conducted by David Robertson

26:54 – Gershwin Concerto, mvmt 3, performed by Vakhtang Kodanashvili and PCE conducted by Angel Gil-Ordonez

37:41 – Gershwin Cuban Overture, performed by PCE conducted by Gil-Ordonez

53:00 – Jascha Heifetz plays his own arrangement of “My Man’s Gone Now”