On July 11, 1937, the young 38 year old George Gershwin died of a brain tumor, but before his untimely passing, he had approximately 900 published songs and almost as many unpublished ones. Together with his older brother, Ira, the first family of the American Musical Songbook left their immortal mark in history. Now, some 76 years later, the songs of this talented duo have clearly stood the test of time.
On Saturday night, at Strathmore’s Annual Gala, the premier interpreter of Gershwin’s music, Michael Feinstein, played to a sold out audience on the Marriott Concert Stage. Feinstein has a long history with the Gershwins. In 1977, he became a close friend of Ira and spent the next six years archiving Gershwin’s music and ensuring that their legacy would live on for generations to come. He is considered the leading authority on this wonderful music, and recently released a best selling book depicting his time with Ira and the legacy of the Gershwins: “The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History In Twelve Songs.”
Backed by a powerful 17-piece band, Feinstein worked his way through the Gershwin songbook like a proud child at show-and-tell. From his opening number, “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Feinstein delighted the audience with his smoky voice and sultry interpretation. Throughout the evening, he shared stories and anecdotes of Fred Astaire; how George wrote “Rhapsody in Blue” in 3 weeks; and how George’s all-time best selling song, “Swanee” forever haunted him.
Feinstein, a gifted pianist, is at home when he is singing from behind the keys. One of the highlights of the evening was his understated performance of “Embraceable You” – slow and moving, with an intricate attention to the nuances of this haunting melody. He attacked the lyrically intricate and tongue-twisting patter song, “Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians)” – the only song from the evening not composed by George, but rather Ira’s later collaborator, Kurt Weill.
Fred Astaire, a very good friend of the Gershwins, was the original performer of a majority of their songs, and Feinstein put together a nice medley of Astaire’s famous hits including “Funny Face”, “S’Wonderful,” “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off,” and a personal favorite of mine (and the final song Astaire would premier) “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.”
Besides just being a popular hits composer, Gershwin is also known for his classical works and his greatest contribution to the American Musical “sound”: Porgy and Bess. Feinstein masterfully performed Porgy’s act three aria, “Bess, O Where’s My Bess?” with fierce intensity and vocal prowess.
Feinstein is the premier interpreter of Gershwin, and his evening of songs at Strathmore was stunningly performed, expertly chosen, and heartfelt. The entire concert can be summed up in two words: ‘S Wonderful, ‘S Marvelous.’
Running Time: Ninety minutes, with no intermission.
Michael Feinstein performed one-night only on April 20, 2013 at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. For future events, check their calendar.
Michael Feinstein’s website.