Gershwin And Ravel

We went to Disney Hall for the first time on Sunday, for a concert. I’d been wanting to do it since it was built, to hear the acoustics first hand. They were great, though there’s obviously no way to A-B them with (e.g.) the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, which was the previous home for the LA Philharmonic.

Anyway, it was an interesting concert, with a lecture beforehand, in which I learned that Gershwin had once asked Ravel (who was a quarter of a century his senior) if he would give him composing lessons. There are two stories of his response: The first is that Ravel said that he should prefer to be a first-rate Gershwin to a second-rate Ravel; the second (more likely accurate) was that he asked Gershwin how much money he’d made in the last year, and when informed that it was a hundred thousand (in 1920s dollars), he said that he should be taking lessons from him.

I also learned that while Gershwin later orchestrated his own music, Rhapsody in Blue was orchestrated by Ferde Grofé (of Grand Canyon Suite fame), more than once. We also heard the first recording of it, converted from a wax cylinder, with a very different take on the opening clarinet solo.

Finally, I learned that Irving Berlin couldn’t read or write music, and that Gershwin was one of his writers. Also that Berlin used only the black keys, and played everything in F#, but his custom piano enabled it to automatically transpose to other keys.

The concert itself was Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, followed by Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, with the French soloist Hélène Grimaud, whom I’d never heard before, or of, but she was fantastic attacking the keys in the first and third movements, and beautiful in the gentle adagio.

After the intermission, the orchestra played Ravel’s La Valse, then concluded the performance with a spectacular American in Paris, which I’d never heard performed live before, featuring some lovely solos by the concertmaster, a woman who appeared to be of Chinese (or some other Asian) descent.

It was a little pricey, but we greatly enjoyed the show, and should do things like that more often as, like everyone else, we aren’t getting any younger. At least not yet.

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