Gershwin's Americana at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater

Photo by Scott Feinblatt
Pacific Symphony
Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre

From alt rock acts to classical orchestras, the cozy and scenic Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, formerly (and more dignifiedly) known as Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, has hosted many types of concerts and musical festivals. And although music appreciation depends upon the taste of the individual, it is difficult to imagine that the strains of George Gershwin's most popular compositions would not command respect from anyone who heard them performed -- much less all in one program. On the evening of Sunday, July 20, Carl St. Clair opened his 25th season as the Musical Director and Conductor of the Pacific Symphony with performances of An American in Paris, Rhapsody in Blue, selections from Porgy and Bess, and the "Overture" from Strike Up the Band.

Gershwin is popularly regarded as one of the prototypical American composers. He synthesized classical music with jazz and yielded wonderfully theatrical music, which has become hallmark Americana. Gershwin referred to Rhapsody in Blue (1924) as "a musical kaleidoscope of America." It has been influential on numerous musicians and has featured prominently in many movies -- most notably as Woody Allen's theme for New York in Manhattan and in Baz Luhrmann's recent film adaptation of The Great Gatsby.

Soprano Angela Brown and Pacific Symphony's Carl St. Clair performing "Porgy and Bess." Photo by Scott Feinblatt
An American in Paris (1928) is a symphonic depiction (culled from his own experience) of, well, an American in Paris. Gershwin's original program notes revealed that the music was to portray: first, someone out-of-sorts with his French surroundings; second, that person's homesickness; and, finally "the street noises and French atmosphere are triumphant."

Gershwin referred to Porgy and Bess (1935) as a "Folk Opera." With lyrics by his brother Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward [the opera is based on Heyward's novel, Porgy, and play (co-written with Heyward's wife, Dorothy)], the opera combines classical with folk and spiritual music to tell the story of a disabled, African American panhandler who attempts to save a woman from an abusive boyfriend and a drug dealer in Charleston, South Carolina. The story is based on the true story of Samuel Smalls, and, in 1935, the controversial New York premiere of the opera featured an entire cast of classically trained black singers.

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