It was 100 years ago at Manhattan's Aelion Hall. The premiere of "Rhapsody in Blue" was performed with its composer George Gershwin on the piano solos himself, backed up by Paul Whiteman's Palais Royal Orchestra.
"Rhapsody" came to be the embodiment of the Jazz Age of the 1920s and 1930s. It launched Gershwin's composition career. It became a jazz and symphonic classic, sort of like crossing Beethoven with Lionel Hampton. The composition worked.
Now, "Rhapsody in Blue" is 100 years old. The state of Alabama is honored to have its 100th birthday celebration in Birmingham at the Alys Stephens Center on Saturday and Sunday.
Attendees are encouraged to wear their favorite blue outfits. Special blue cocktails will be served for the anniversary celebration.
Details and ticket information are available here.
The Saturday performance is at 7 p.m. Sunday performance is at 2:30 p.m. The Alys Stephens Center is located on the campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. It will be in the center's 1,300-seat Jemison Concert Hall.
Playing the part first performed by George Gershwin, the pianist for the performance will be Simon Mulligan. He will be in front of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christopher Confessore.
On vocals are Birmingham favorite Marlowe Shepherd and Jacquline Mulligan.
"Rhapsody's" opening clarinet glissando is a masterpiece that is as familiar to concertgoers as the opening of the much older Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.
As influential and enduring as "Rhapsody" has been, it was composed in less than five weeks. Gershwin had initially declined the offer to compose a piece for a fast-approaching George Washington's birthday concert. On hearing of some serious competition and after the New York Times had announced the concert, he agreed to the project. The orchestration was completed just eight days before the concert.
Gershwin credited the sounds of a train ride from New York to Boston for providing him with the "thematic seeds" of the composition.
The premiere was attended by a hodgepodge of New York's musical and theatrical worlds, including Igor Stravinsky and John Philip Sousa. The audience was described as "Vaudevillians, concert managers come to have a look at the novelty, Tin Pan Alleyites, composers, symphony and opera stars, flappers, cake-eaters, all mixed up higgledy-piggledy."
The original performance was titled "An Experiment in Modern Music." The experiment was to cross classical symphony with the new-fangled jazz of 1920s America. The experiment was a success.
Let's make it fun! Wearing your favorite blue outfit, you can saunter the blue carpet like you own it while sipping on a signature sparkling blue cocktail!
Jim Zeigler is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at [email protected]
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