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Gershwin Gala planned for Kennedy Center

Jack Gibbons promises to deliver high-energy performance

August 4, 2012
The Inter-Mountain

Davis & Elkins College will present British pianist Jack Gibbons in a "Gershwin Gala" concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 26. The concert will be hosted in the Terrace Theater.

The artist-in-residence for Davis & Elkins College since 2010, Gibbons has been called "THE Gershwin pianist of our time," by the British press, noting: "Gibbons has transcribed the composer's flamboyant and fiendishly difficult recreations of his own show-tunes ... he dashes off the most insanely difficult passage-work with a broad grin. This is music that requires verve, nerve and Gibbons' enviable capacity to generate party atmosphere."

D&E President G.T. "Buck" Smith notes that this promises to be a rare musical event in honor of the composer's 114th birthday. Born on Sept. 26, 1898, Gershwin was both a popular songwriter for Broadway and a classical composer who began his musical career as a song-plugger on Tin Pan Alley.

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Davis &?Elkins College Artist-in-Residence, Jack Gibbons, is hailed as the Gershwin pianist and will showcase his talents on Sept. 26 at the Kennedy Center.

A virtuoso pianist who has performed repeatedly in New York's Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and London's Albert Hall, Gibbons will perform the works of George Gershwin, almost exclusively. The program will feature popular favorites, such as "I Got Rhythm," as well as selections from "Porgy and Bess," and the lyrical "Rhapsody in Blue," plus Gibbons' by-ear transcriptions of Gershwin's playing from old recordings. The event will share not only music Gibbons describes as "full of life," but also will recreate Gershwin's own unique performance style and original improvisations.

Gibbons began performing in public at the age of 10, made his professional solo recital debut at the age of 15, his London debut at 17, and at 20 won the Newport International Pianoforte Competition. Two years later he gave a critically acclaimed Queen Elizabeth Hall debut recital, which the London Times described as "monumental."

In 1990, he gave the first annual all-Gershwin program in London. It featured the world premieres of his meticulous reconstructions of Gershwin's breathtaking improvisations. In 1994, he gave his New York and Washington, D.C., debuts to tremendous acclaim. The following year, he made his debut of the work with which he has become so closely associated - George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue - and the BBC hailed him as "THE Gershwin pianist of our time."

Gibbons' recording credits include a Gramophone Award nomination, MRA awards and numerous special commendations. His award-winning "Authentic George Gershwin" series on ASV features the first modern recordings of more than 4 and a half hours of original Gershwin material and has been described in the media as "unique testimony to Gershwin's genius."

Gibbons' uniquely "high-spirited and historically informed" (New Yorker) Gershwin repertoire is built around his note-for-note transcriptions by ear of Gershwin's original improvisations, recorded by the composer on 78s, radio broadcasts and piano rolls in the 1920s and 30s. In celebration of the Gershwin Centenary in 1998, Gibbons was asked to write and present an hour-long feature program for the BBC titled "Gershwin in Focus" with Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley as the voice of Gershwin.

Gershwin's first published song, "When you Want 'Em, You Can't Get 'Em", came out in 1916 and earned him just $5. Teaming up with lyricist Irving Caeser, he composed a number of songs including his first commercial success, "Swanee," for singer Al Jolson in 1920, which sold more than 1 million copies. Over the next four years, Gershwin wrote 45 songs as well as a 25-minute opera, "Blue Monday."

Gershwin began collaborating with his brother, lyricist Ira Gershwin, in 1924. It was the beginning of a partnership that would continue for the rest of the composer's life. Together they wrote the musical comedy "Lady Be Good," which included such popular standards as "Fascinating Rhythm" and "The Man I Love." While continuing to compose popular music for the stage, Gershwin pursued his dream of leaving his mark as a serious composer.

In 1924, at just 25 years of age, "Rhapsody in Blue" premiered in New York. Perhaps the best known Gershwin hit, Rhapsody was composed for solo piano and jazz band, combining the elements of classical music with jazz-influenced effects. An American Heritage columnist proclaimed that the famous clarinet opening "has become as familiar as the start of Beethoven's Fifth." Gershwin himself defined the style of the rhapsody as "a musical kaleidoscope of America."

Gershwin followed this success with his orchestral work "Piano Concerto in F, Rhapsody No. 2" and "An American in Paris." In the early 1930s, he composed several innovative Broadway musicals dealing with social issues of the time - "Strike Up The Band," "Let 'Em Eat Cake," and the first comedy to win the Pulitzer Prize, "Of Thee I Sing." In 1935, he presented a folk opera, "Porgy and Bess" with only moderate success. Today, it is recognized as one of the most decisive works of American opera.

Later, brothers George and Ira teamed up with dance sensations Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the musical film, "Shall We Dance," which included the hits "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me."

George Gershwin died of a brain tumor at the age of 38 in 1937. During his brief life, he composed more than 140 songs, musicals and operas. The revival of music from the Gershwin era has found his music being played in mainstream media on a regular basis. Commercials for United Airlines used "Rhapsody in Blue" for years as a theme. H&R Block and Visa have also used Gershwin music to tout their services. Feature films such as "When Harry Met Sally" and "Mr. Holland's Opus" have used Gershwin music to help shape their themes and plots. You'll find Gershwin hits in the Disney film "Fantasia 2000," Woody Allen's films, "Manhattan" and "Gremlins 2," and even in the Nintendo Wii Game, "Little King's Story."

Tickets for Gibbons' performance are available now at the Kennedy Center Box Office, charge by phone at 202-467-4600 and



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