By Edward Kliszus

NEW YORK – The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony presents Centenary in Blue

Tonight was an extraordinary concert with audience members seated among the orchestra’s musicians for an immersive artistic and musical experience. Sublime musical selections celebrated the genius of George Gershwin on the centenary anniversary of the premiere of his Rhapsody in Blue in New York City on Feb. 12, 1924. As Maestro Bernard reminded us, “See, feel, and hear the music.”

See, hear and feel the music as The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony presents Centenary in Blue. Photo courtesy Park Avenue Chamber Symphony

See, hear, and feel the music as The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony presents Centenary in Blue. Photo courtesy Park Avenue Chamber Symphony

Context and History

Conductor and music director David Bernard guided the audience through each musical work, providing context and history and identifying features in such a fashion that listeners could hardly wait for the music to begin. Thus, this wasn’t Music Appreciation 101 but tenfold.

Plush, Earthy Timbre of Strings

The excitement continued to build as orchestra sections were mobilized to demonstrate segments of Gershwin’s masterpieces and the variety of sonic textures woven into the music. Next, we delved into the plush, earthy timbre of strings, virtuoso woodwinds, marvelous saxophones, breathtaking brass, and extraordinary percussion.

Sarah Ellis Sings Gershwin

The concert began by focusing on Gershwin’s contributions to the American songbook, which included hundreds of songs. Singer Sarah Ellis arrived to convey a stirring, moving version of Gershwin’s Love is Here to Stay. Ellis exquisitely captured the song’s haunting melody, timeless lyrics, and unforgettable vocals woven into a beautiful romantic symphony. She projected the timeless essence of genuine love that never fades away. As this was Gershwin’s final song and masterfully performed by Ellis, listeners experienced a superb tribute to its poignancy and provenance.

David Bernard conducts as Singer Sarah Ellis performs Gershwin songs as The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony presents Centenary in Blue. Photo by Edward Kliszus

David Bernard conducts as Singer Sarah Ellis performs Gershwin songs as The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony presents Centenary in Blue. Photo by Edward Kliszus

Someone to Watch Over Me

Next, Ellis sang Gershwin’s Someone to Watch Over Me. Her singing was stirring, lovely, and expressive, enveloping listeners with a spellbinding enchantment that lingered long after the final notes faded. Her singing was stunning and showcased Gershwin’s artistic brilliance and pathos well. Listeners sighed and smiled as they watched and listened to the chanteuse.

Porgy and Bess

An arrangement containing music from Gershwin’s stunning and timeless musical masterpiece folk opera Porgy and Bess followed. Just as with previous selections by Sarah Ellis and the orchestra, listeners experienced sumptuous sonic immersion. The orchestra well captured the provenance of this timeless musical masterpiece. Its sublime melodies and captivating storyline enchanted and captivated, while its profound and lasting impact on the very soul of the listener resonated deeply with its universal themes of love, struggle, and human connection.

Rhapsody in Blue

It was time for Rhapsody and Blue. Just the name of this work stirs excitement in audiences worldwide. Adding to the excitement was the arrival of pianist Ted Rosenthal, a famed jazz artist and master of the piano. A key feature was Rosenthal’s improvised cadenzas in the Rhapsody. You see, while Gershwin was an able improviser, many pianists of his era were not – Gershwin penned cadenzas for concert pianists that he created through his improvisations.

Ted Rosenthal

Rosenthal recreated and honored Gershwin’s masterpiece with blazing musical fireworks, creativity, and aplomb. In addition to Rosenthal’s powerful stride styles and glistening chromaticism of the era, he created a brief but stunning amalgam of Gershwin’s tonality and Latin beats in a cadenza. Rosenthal’s performance was splendid, spirited, and magnificent, exquisitely honoring the work’s spirit.

Pianist Ted Rosenthal performs Rhapsody in Blue as The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony presents Centenary in Blue. Photo by Edward Kliszus

Pianist Ted Rosenthal performs Rhapsody in Blue as The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony presents Centenary in Blue. Photo by Edward Kliszus

An American in Paris

Capping tonight’s concert was Gershwin’s An American in Paris. Bernard explained that this work represented Gershwin’s efforts to be seen as a serious composer, akin perhaps to composers like Stravinsky and Debussy. We indeed heard chordal and linear structures of the aforementioned composers, like polytonality, lush chromaticism, and whole-tone scales. It was delightful to hear and feel An American in Paris actually scored by Gershwin, marking his growing mastery in orchestration and arranging.

On an aside, Maestro Bernard provided the means for the orchestra to use the original pitches and sounds of Parisienne taxi horns. This attention to detail is another hallmark of Bernard and the Symphony’s strident excellence.

Astounding

“Centenary in Blue” by Maestro David Bernard and the Park Ave Chamber Symphony was astounding. You must come and experience their immersive concerts where you see and feel the music. Children’s versions of each concert are offered earlier in the day.

The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony presents Centenary in Blue

David Bernard, Music Director and Conductor
Featured artists included vocalist Sarah Ellis and pianist Ted Rosenthal
875 5th Ave, New York, NY 10065
(917) 740-7227

For tickets and information, go to 2023-2024 Concert Season

Readers may also enjoy our reviews of The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony presents Tales and TransformationThe Park Avenue Chamber Symphony presents Between Sea and Sky: Debussy’s Painters and Poets, and The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony performs Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.