Something Old and New: The Music of the Spheres, Part 1

On Friday, 13th of July myself, my trust companion and Padpad made our way to the National Concert Hall again for another night of music from the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra. “The Music of the Spheres” promised to be a great night of music from two 20th century composers, Gershwin and Holst. I was first introduced to their music through The Magicical Music Box, which if you have read previous posts will not be much of a surprise! I have wanted to hear these pieces of music live for sometime and was delighted that the two pieces were included in the one concert.


George Gershwin

George Gershwin

The first piece played was Rhapsody in Blue (1924) by George GerswinIt was written for a solo piano and orchestra, and it has created some good debate among critics, most notably concerning if it is a full composition or a series of paragraphs stuck together. The question of can it be considered as a jazz piece or not is also still quite topical. Since its first performance Rhapsody in Blue, which was meant to be a “musical kaleidoscope of America”, has come to be seen as a representation of all things New York.  It  features in movies and TV shows depicting New York such as Glee, Doctor Who, Manhattan and Gremlins 2. In the Magical Music Box it inspired a story about gangsters, molls, jewel thefts and the Empire State Building.

The piece opens with a distinctive and iconic wailing clarinet playing a glissando, sounding like a siren. It is probably one of the best known openings to a piece of music and is great live. I am very glad that Gershwin chose it add it to the original score after Ross Gorman played it as a joke at an early rehearsal. The music swaggers in the opening with deep brassy undertones supporting the clarinet as it sails above the orchestra. What I really like about this piece is that it gets loud, quickly. Symbols crash and the orchestra belts out the melody before it lulls into a quieter piece with pianos or wind/brass instrument solos, before the orchestra crashes in again. This theme is repeated keeping the audience of their toes, not quite knowing what is coming next. There is also a beautiful section where the strings play a dreamy melody which is a nice contrast to some of the jazzier elements of the piece. The composition is formed in such a way that the changes never feel like an intrusion or a rude interruption but rather just a fun, spirited showcase of the orchestra. You could also see that the orchestra were really enjoying playing the piece and the conductor, Matthew Coorey really kept the energy going. This was great stuff as he was wearing formal tails and bouncing about to a jazzy composition.

But the real star of the show is really the piano, which plays solos throughout. The varied style of playing is exciting to listen to and did not fail to impress on the night.  The melodies are beautifully crafted, chopping and changing to the different themes and embellishments on the themes. The tempo varies widely through for all instruments but it is most evident in the piano playing. In fact this is the piece which makes me wish I knew how to play the piano as it just makes it sound like so much fun.

As stated above there is still a debate raging about whether Rhapsody in Blue is jazz or not. I am in no way qualified to make a pick a side on that but I will say that nobody can deny that it is heavily influenced by jazz.  Blue notes, glissando, ragtime rhythms, and use of instruments such as the saxophone are included which  give the piece a jazz like feel even if it is not counted as “pure jazz”

Next Philip Martin, the pianist, played a selection of songs from the American Songbook. These were delightful pieces which flowed with each other nicely. Now to be honest I couldn’t tell you which was which but he definitely played Sweet and Low Down, Somebody Loves Me,The Man I Love, Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away)
and I Got Rhythm. The audience could really tell that Philip Martin was a big Gershwin fan as he played with great enthusiasm and even jumped but at the end with sweeping jazz hands pointing to the orchestra. He even invited the audience to sing along, not that anyone was brave enough. He was an absolute legend and it was a brilliant end to end the first half!

Next Thursday part two will describe the second half of the show, Gustav Holst’s The Planets. 

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