Guest blog thanks to Maestro Cal Kellogg, West Valley Symphony.
This weekend’s performances of George Gershwin’s Cuban Overture and American in Paris come from a very personal place to the composer. While on vacation in Cuba, Gershwin became fascinated by the driving rhythm of the Rumba. The result of this fascination was the Cuban Overture, written and premiered in 1932. It is hard to keep from dancing while listening to the vibrant piece of music. The orchestra sways like a palm tree in the Caribbean breeze. Gershwin’s gift for both melody and harmony are evident in this incredibly Latin flavored work.
Between 1925 and 1928, Gershwin lived in Paris. The original plan was to seek assistance in the art of orchestral composition, but to his surprise, both Nadia Boulanger and Maurice Ravel turned him down as a student. While he was there, however, he sketched out what was to become one of his most popular works for orchestra. An American in Paris was first performed in 1928 and has been a part of the standard symphonic repertoire ever since. The music follows the adventures of an American tourist from his entanglement with Parisian taxis to getting homesick and at last meeting a fellow American with whom he happily teams up to enjoy the sights and sounds of that most enchanting city.
Ferde Grofé learned to play a number of instruments. He preferred the viola, but was also a very good pianist. His training allowed him to move back and forth within the jazz ensemble and the classical orchestra scenes of the early 20th century. Grofé also had a wonderful ability as an arranger and orchestrator of other composer’s works. Among these was the piece which made Gershwin a household word. George Gershwin was commissioned by Paul Whiteman to write a piece for piano and jazz band. The piece was originally written for two pianos. Grofé, who was doubling as pianist and arranger for Whiteman, was given the task of arranging Rhapsody in Blue for jazz band. Later, Grofé made an orchestral version of the piece which is still heard today.
Visiting the Grand Canyon made an incredible impression on Ferde Grofé. He decided to capture his thoughts in music. His five movement suite depicts different scenes and moods of this natural wonder. The placid sunrise, the painted desert, the sunset, and cloudburst are very descriptive and the best known of the movements, On the Trail, offers a playful view of a mule train as it lumbers along taking in all the marvelous sites to be seen. For the West Valley Symphony performance, there will be a series of beautiful photographs of the canyon to enhance the score. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear these great works. It will be an afternoon to remember.