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Ann Arbor Gershwin Centennial Festival 2024: “Rhapsody in Blue” and More

Jan 19, 2024 | Announcements, News, Outreach, Research

By Mark Clague

February 2024 marks the 100th birthday of George Gershwin’s jazz piano concerto Rhapsody in Blue. To celebrate, the University of Michigan Gershwin Initiative in partnership with Ann Arbor’s landmark Michigan Theater (606 East Liberty in Ann Arbor) will host a Gershwin Centennial Celebration Concert on Sunday, February 11, 2024 at 4:00 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, but requires an electronic, general admission ticket (reserve here).

A special feature of the concert will be the appearance of George Gershwin’s personal piano, a smaller Steinway grand from his Manhattan apartment which was donated to the University of Michigan by the composer’s nephew Marc Gershwin. George Gershwin used this instrument to compose such musical works as the folk opera Porgy and Bess as well as his I Got Rhythm Variations.

Black and white photo of Gershwin working with a score at the piano

George Gershwin composing at his Steinway “Long A” piano, an instrument now in the U-M collection.

Pianist Kevin Cole, a Michigan native and one of the foremost interpreters of George Gershwin’s fusion of classical and popular styles, will perform the solo on Rhapsody in Blue using the U-M Gershwin Piano. Conductor Jayce Ogren and the members of Michigan’s Contemporary Directions Ensemble will join Cole for the Rhapsody. SMTD Dean David Gier and staff from the Gershwin Initiative will host.

SMTD faculty pianist Logan Skelton, who has arranged several Gershwin songs for piano four hands, will also appear.

The concert is part of an Ann Arbor Gershwin Festival for which the Michigan Theater will present Gershwin film musicals (paid admission required). The films are:

The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance announced the Gershwin Initiative, a landmark cultural partnership with the families of George and Ira, in 2013. It’s goal is to research and share the creative legacy of the Gershwin brothers with our students, the public, and especially musicians the world over. Our signature project is The George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition, a scholarly effort to publish new, uniquely accurate musical scores of all the Gershwins’ musical works. The first volumes of the series – an edition of the original 1924 jazz band orchestration of Rhapsody in Blue – is now available from Schott Music. This research is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and individual donors. Click here to donate to support the U-M Gershwin Initiative.

The majority of the Gershwins’ creative efforts were the songs and shows created for Broadway and Hollywood. Recovering the Gershwins’ musical theatre works is a special focus of the university’s work and our Centennial Celebration Concert will feature student vocalists from its top-ranked Musical Theatre Department, performing excerpts of the four Gershwin shows premiered in 1924 – Sweet Little Devil, Primrose, George White’s Scandals of 1924, and Lady, Be Good. 1924 saw the Gershwins create some of their most iconic songs, such as “Fascinating Rhythm” and “The Man I Love.”

Other current research projects and musical discoveries will be shared as well. We hope to see you there.

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