’S always wonderful and marvelous to spend an evening at Wolf Trap, especially when the most wonderful and marvelous Marvin Hamlisch shows up and devotes the entire evening to George Gershwin. Honestly, it’s just not going to get any better.
Marvin Hamlisch is the principal pops conductor for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Pasadena Symphony Pops, the Seattle Symphony, and the San Diego Symphony. He just scored The Nutty Professor, a new musical scheduled to make its pre-Broadway premiere in Nashville next week under the direction of Jerry Lewis, and he is currently working on yet another new musical, Gotta Dance. He’s also scoring the music for Behind the Candelabra, a movie about Liberace, starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. As if this isn’t enough to prove that he is absolutely a living legend, he also has to his credit three Oscars, four GRAMMYs, four Emmys, a Tony, three Golden Globe Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and a catalogue of music that is a permanent gift to the whole world. He’s also a champion for young talent, and one of the most giving musicians in the business.
Friday’s concert opened with a medley of music from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, fabulously arranged by Robert Russell Bennett. The NSO musicians played with delightful energy and emotion, clearly as in love with Gershwin’s gorgeous music as the thousands of people who came to hear them play it. As Marvin later explained how as composers tend to begin alone, often working out their musical ideas in simple melodies, harmonies, and rhythms on a piano, they can only imagine what the music will sound like when it is actually performed by an orchestra. As a person who has always connected to the person who is a great artist as much as to the art itself, upon hearing Marvin’s comment I immediately found myself thinking and believing that somewhere, the one and only George Gershwin was looking down with unbelievable joy, hearing the one and only National Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of the one and only Marvin Hamlisch, bringing his music to life before thousands of people on a beautiful night at Wolf Trap.
In introducing the fantastic pianist Kevin Cole to the stage, Marvin went on to explain that Gershwin, with all of his talent, was very much human, so much so that he entirely forgot that he had accepted a major commission to compose a jazz piano concerto for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra until his brother happened upon an announcement of the premiere just one month before its scheduled date. With no time to spare, he realized that a concerto was not to be, but in just three short weeks, the 25 year old Gershwin, who was already a force on Broadway, composed the piece that would introduce jazz to the classical music world. Performing his new work to a standing room only audience that included Jascha Heifetz, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Fritz Kreisler, Leopold Stokowski, and Walter Damrosch, Gershwin triumphed. The year was 1924, and the music was “Rhapsody in Blue.”
Cole’s performance of “Rhapsody in Blue” was breathtaking. Known for his command of 20th century American music, and a musician who has Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg, Burton Lane, Stephen Sondheim, counted and the families of Jerome Kern and George and Ira Gershwin among his fans, Cole’s exhilarating performance with the NSO was nothing short of amazing and earned him, as well as the entire orchestra, a very well deserved standing ovation.
In the second half of the concert, Marvin introduced Melissa Errico, a bundle of energy and charisma whose Broadway credits include My Fair Lady, Anna Karenina, Amour, Dracula, White Christmas, and the first national tour of Les Misérables. With Marvin at the piano, the talented Ms. Errico opened with the can’t miss ballads “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Embraceable You” and finished with the crowd pleasing rendition of “By Strauss” from Vincente Minnelli’s An American in Paris.
In the composing world, there are many one hit wonders, many one year wonders, and even a few one decade wonders, but very, very few composers have ever or will ever be the lifetime wonder that is Marvin Hamlisch. Marvin is very right to say that there is only one Gershwin. There’s also only one Marvin Hamlisch, and I’m proud to say that I’ve been saying this for much longer than one should admit.
This was a one-night only performance. one night at Wolf Trap at The Filene Center – 1551 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA. To view upcoming events at Wolf Trap, check out their calendar.