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U-M orchestra to perform new critical editions of Gershwin masterpieces

By Marilou Carlin

George Gershwin (left), James Rosenberg, percussionist for Cincinnati Symphony (center), and tenor Richard Crooks (right), pose with taxi horns from "An American in Paris" on February 28, 1929. Photo courtesy the Ira & Leonore Gershwin Trusts.

The University Symphony Orchestra at the University of Michigan will perform two George Gershwin masterpieces—”An American in Paris” (1928) and “Concerto in F” (1925)in new critical editions that reveal, for the first time in decades, the composer’s original intent for the works.

The original states of each composition were revealed during research for the “George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition,” the lead project of the U-M Gershwin Initiative, based at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

The free concert will take place at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, at Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium, and will be conducted by Kenneth Kiesler, SMTD director of orchestras and professor of conducting. It will feature internationally acclaimed piano soloist and SMTD professor of piano Logan Skelton, performing Concerto in F.

Also on the program is composer John Adams’ Saxophone Concerto, written for and featuring saxophonist and SMTD professor Timothy McAllister. McAllister previously performed the work on the St. Louis Symphony album “City Noir” (Nonesuch), which won the Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance in 2015.

A panel discussion titled “Rediscovering Gershwin: Insights from the Gershwin Critical Edition,” will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21, at Britton Recital Hall, located within the Earl V. Moore Building on U-M’s North Campus.

The panel, which is also free and open to the public, will feature Kiesler, Skelton, Critical Edition editor-in-chief Mark Clague (editor of “An American in Paris”), music scholar Timothy Freeze (editor of Concerto in F);and Kristen Clough (musicology Ph.D. candidate and scholar of 20th century French music). The discussion will be followed by a Q&A with the audience.

The new critical edition of “An American in Paris” restores just over 100 measures of music previously cut from the score, uncovered by musicologist and SMTD professor Clague in his research.

Clague was recently featured in national media when he discovered that the taxi-horn pitches in this piece have been performed incorrectly for more than half a century. Audiences will hear the original pitches in this test performance of the new edition.

“The new edition of ‘An American in Paris’ reveals a Gershwin both more modernist—lean, angular and experimenting with color, harmony and rhythm—and more expressive, featuring clearer transparent textures that invite romantic flexibility, plus even more humor and fun,” Clague said. “I’m so excited to have our student musicians bring George Gershwin’s music to life with a freshness not heard since the 1930s.”

Considered another of Gershwin’s greatest works, “Concerto in F” may have suffered from decades of interpretation.

The new volume scrapes away layers of interpretational decisions and added notes, restoring the work’s content to a state that more closely resembles Gershwin’s own notation and recorded performances of the score,” said Freeze, the work’s editor. “Full access to the manuscripts of the work has also allowed the new volume to correct mistakes and clarify ambiguities that were unwittingly reproduced in the old score. The new edition also modernizes Gershwin’s occasionally old-fashioned and idiosyncratic notation of the music, making it easier for today’s performers to read and interpret.”

The USO concert will be the first “test” performances of the new George and Ira Gershwin Critical Editions, in keeping with the U-M Gershwin Initiative’s goal of providing unique opportunities to SMTD students and involving them in the editorial process of polishing this research for publication.

The U-M Gershwin Initiative is a long-term partnership with the Gershwin family to undertake a two-part initiative that will bring the music of George and Ira Gershwin to students, scholars, performers and audiences across the U-M campus and worldwide. The Gershwin Initiative includes: (1) a new scholarly edition of George and Ira’s creative work; and (2) educational opportunities for U-M students to perform and learn about the Gershwins’ art.

The George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition recently received a grant of $300,000 ($150,000 outright, $150,000 matching, spanning three years) from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support its research. The grant, announced in August, is part of the NEH Scholarly Translations and Editions program.

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