Simon + Rhapsody In Blue @ 100

AMEN! by Carlos Simon; Simon Says by Paul Frerer

On February 12, my wife and I attended an Albany Symphony Orchestra concert entitled Simon + Rhapsody In Blue @ 100, under the direction of David Alan Miller. It took place at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady and was the first time we had seen the Grammy Award-winning orchestra at the Electric City venue.  Usually, we listen to the group at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall or Albany’s Palace Theatre.

Why Simon? Two reasons, the second of which I’ll note in due time.  The first is that the initial piece was AMEN! by Carlos Simon. He “is a GRAMMY-nominated composer, curator, and activist. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, his compositions range from concert music for large and small ensembles to film scores with influences of jazz, gospel, and neo-romanticism. Simon is the Composer-in-Residence for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.”

My wife thought the piece was Gershwinesque, and I don’t think she’s wrong, but judge for yourself. Listen to the UMich Symphony Band (2017) and the Gateways Music Festival (2019).

Next was An American In Paris by George Gershwin. I traveled to France last year so I could write a blog post with that title. Here’s hr-Sinfonieorchester ∙ Andrés Orozco-Estrada (2020).


After the intermission  came the second Simon. It was the world premiere of Simon Says, a concerto for Trombone and Orchestra by Jack Frerer (b. 1995). The music, as described by the composer, was a conversation between the music teacher (the trombone played by ASO’s Greg Spiridopolous) and the sometimes unwilling music students (the orchestra). That foreknowledge made the piece quite humorous, especially at the outset.

The grand piano was moved to center stage. Kevin Cole played a couple of medleys of Gershwin tunes, including Swanee, Fascinating Rhythm, But Not For Me, ‘S Wonderful, and Nice Work If You Can Get It, among others.


The week before the concert, my wife had heard on the radio that George Gershwin had “forgotten” that he had agreed to write a piece for band leader Paul Whiteman. George’s brother Ira saw Whiteman’s January 1924 announcement in a newspaper of a new jazz concerto.

That latter part is genuine: the January 4 edition of the New York Tribune. But per both the ASO program and the Wikipedia piece, George had declined Whiteman’s request for such work because the Gershwin brothers were busy working on a new musical.

In a telephone conversation the following day, Whiteman informed George Gershwin, “Whiteman’s arch-rival Vincent Lopez planned to steal the idea of his experimental concert, and there was no time to lose. Whiteman thus finally persuaded Gershwin to compose the piece.” He did, but he improvised the various piano solos, writing them down afterward.

Here’s a tease of the Cole/ASO concert recorded a week before the show.

Rhapsody In Blue: Gershwin on piano; 1st RECORDING -Paul Whiteman Orch. & George Gershwin piano (1924 version); Columbia Symphony Orchestra · Leonard Bernstein (1959). Ira’s contribution to the work.

One last thing: we also went to the concert to see our churchmate Tom in his ASO debut, playing banjo.

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