Presentations


Orin Grossman Performs offers a variety of informative and entertaining presentations--either 60 or ninety minutes-- created to suit the needs of virtually any organization.  In addition to the masterful lecture component, each presentation also comes with a complete performance as indicated.


 
60-MINUTE PRESENTATIONS


1.  Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, an American masterpiece


I’d like to write of the melting pot, of New York City itself, with its blend of native and immigrant strains. This would allow for many kinds of music, black and white, Eastern and Western, and would call for a style that should achieve out of this diversity, an artistic unity. New York is a meeting place, a rendezvous of the nations. I’d like to catch the rhythms of these interfusing peoples, to show them clashing and blending. I’d especially like to blend the humor of it with the tragedy of it.

GEORGE GERSHWIN, late 1920’s

George Gershwin (1898-1937) was a true rarity in American music—someone at home both in popular and classical, or concert, music. It was Gershwin’s special contribution to create concert works out of melodies and rhythms that come out of the popular music of his day— Broadway ballads, ragtime, Latin dance rhythms, and the Blues. This presentation will demonstrate just how this process works in his first and perhaps most popular concert work, Rhapsody in Blue. By understanding the musical sources of this most beloved of American concert pieces, we gain insight into the multicultural nature of American musical traditions, and into the compositional genius of one of our greatest composers. The presentation concludes with a complete solo piano performance of Gershwin’s great masterpiece, Rhapsody in Blue


2.  George and Ira Gershwin’s Broadway


The 1920’s saw the establishment of a new American spirit on Broadway. Inspired by Jerome Kern’s Princess Theatre shows of the late teens, a new young group of composers and lyricists threw off the European trappings of former shows and created the American Musical. Brassy and irreverent, these shows featured such composers and lyricists as Rogers and Hart, Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and, of course, George and Ira Gershwin. This lecture concentrates on the songs and lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin from the 1920’s—songs that remain part of our living heritage. The songs will be performed in Gershwin’s own piano arrangements—arrangements Gershwin created to give the public a sense of how he played his own songs at private parties. In addition, we will hear a number of Gershwin songs in arrangements recorded by Gershwin himself, including a surprising and sparkling version of “Someone To Watch Over Me”.


3.  Jewish Composers and the Great American Songbook


The contribution of American Jews to American music has long been recognized. Jews dominated the Broadway and Hollywood musical scene during the creation of what has often been called “The American Song Book” or simply “the Standards”. From 1920 to 1960, hardly a great musical came about that was not written by Jewish Americans. (The great exception, Cole Porter, always credited his success to his ability to write “Jewish music”). From George Gershwin to Irving Berlin; from Harold Arlen to Richard Rodgers—the names read like a roster of the greatest American songwriters. Equally important, the composers who wrote successful classical music with an American feel—Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin—were also Jewish. The age of rock ended Jewish dominance, but there are still major contributions including Bob Dylan, Carole King and Paul Simon.

But is all of the above merely interesting cultural trivia, or might there be some under-lying factors at play? In other words, did these artists’ Jewishness impact on their art or prodigious talent in any significant way – and, if so, how? As poet and critic David Lehman writes, in Poet In A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs, “Sooner or later you have to explain what is Jewish about American popular song – apart from the simple fact that a great many of the songwriters were Jews.” This presentation will explore this phenomenon with both recorded examples and conclude with a live performance of songs by George Gershwin in his original arrangements.


4.  Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland, a Friendship in Music


Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland met in 1937. Bernstein was 19, beginning his junior year at Harvard College. Aaron Copland was an established composer of 37, living in New York City. He had not yet composed the works for which he is most famous today—the series of ballets Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, and Billy the Kid—but he was a leader of the new young composers group based in New York City. Their meeting initiated a fifty-year friendship in which the older composer served as father-figure, composition advisor, mentor and friend. This presentation traces the course of this influential friendship and concludes with a performance of a striking example of their early collaboration—Leonard Bernstein’s piano arrangement of Aaron Copland’s first great orchestral composition in his popular style—El Salon Mexico.


5.  From Ragtime to Stride—Piano Music from Joplin to Gershwin


In the 1890’s, the first great American musical craze swept the nation—ragtime. Ragtime grew out of a blend of the European march and African rhythms. This presentation concentrates on the music of the greatest ragtime composer, Scott Joplin, and traces the ragtime style from its beginnings to the faster, more complex piano style of stride piano, as demonstrated in the music of Zez Confrey and George Gershwin. Performances include a number of Joplin’s wonderful rags, Zez Confrey’s spectacular “novelty piano” piece “Kitten on the Keys”, and a number of Gershwin’s most beloved songs, including “Swanee”, “Someone to Watch Over Me”, and “sWonderful”.


6. Frederic Chopin, The Poet of the Piano


The modern piano became a major solo concert instrument in the 1830’s because of advances in piano construction and the extraordinary invention of the modern piano technique by two friends and occasional rivals—Franz Liszt and Frederic Chopin. Liszt was the extrovert, who enjoyed publicity and became the most famous touring virtuoso pianist of his day. Chopin, the introvert, concentrated on his compositions and performed them often in private recitals. This presentation will concentrate on Chopin’s musical gifts, and the nature of the pianistic revolution they created. It will conclude with a performance of Chopin’s Ballade#1 in G Minor, among his greatest compositions.


7.  Isaac Albeniz and the Music of Spain


At the beginning of the 20th century, a Spanish piano virtuoso, among Franz Liszt’s last pupils, began a series of twelve remarkable compositions for the piano. Published in four volumes, these twelve pieces are collectively titled Iberia. Its composer, Isaac Albeniz, succeeded in bringing together the virtuoso pianism of his teacher, the wonderful harmonies and colors of the French Impressionists Debussy and Ravel, and most importantly the rhythms and folk-melodies of his native Spain. Although Albeniz worried that he had written unplayable music making impossible technical demands, these pieces are now considered a landmark in piano composition. This presentation concludes with a performance of selections from Iberia.


8.  The March and the Waltz—two popular styles in Europe and America


Who does not like a stirring march or a lilting waltz? Both musical styles have been popular on both sides of the Atlantic although with interesting differences. Marches and waltzes exist both as popular forms and as musical styles used by the great European composers as well. In the United States, the marches of John Philip Sousa are particularly admired, and the March style also contributed strongly to the first great American popular style, ragtime. Although we think of the waltz as a European dance, it actually has a strong presence in American popular music, from country music (for example, the “Tennessee Waltz”) to the great songs of Richard Rodgers (“Oh, What a Beautiful Morning”; “Wait ‘Til You See He”). This presentation discusses the many uses these popular forms have served and includes a performance of a number of marches, rags, and waltzes, ending with Maurice Ravel’s great tribute to the waltz, Noble and Sentimental Waltzes.


9.  How to Listen to (and Appreciate) Great Music


We can enhance the experience of listening to great music in a number of ways. Although no one talk can explore all possibilities, we will take a comprehensive approach to the act of listening itself. Historical information, a knowledge of a composer’s life and times, and a general understanding of the eras of musical style are all important ways to gain a greater appreciation, but this lecture will instead focus on specific concepts of listening that transcend any one composer, style, or genre. Great composers, from Bach to Ellington, enjoy varying musical textures by moving in the same piece from a simple melody with simple background chords to more complex moments with two melodies and perhaps unusual background chords simultaneously. Understanding how to listen for these changes is one important way to get more pleasure from the experience of listening. Examples will be drawn from a wide variety of musical styles. This lecture concludes with a performance of “Rondena” from Iberia, by Isaac Albeniz


90-MINUTE PRESENTATIONS



1.  “My people are Americans; my time is today”: the music of George Gershwin


George Gershwin (1898-1937) was a true rarity in American music—someone at home both in popular and classical, or concert, music. It was Gershwin’s special contribution to create concert works out of melodies and rhythms that come out of the popular music of his day— Broadway ballads, ragtime, Latin dance rhythms, and the Blues. In addition, he was one of a brilliant group of composers who created the Broadway musical and the Great American Songbook. This presentation examines both sides of this creative genius, and features performances of many of his beloved songs in Gershwin’s own piano arrangements as well as a performance of his first and perhaps most popular concert work, Rhapsody in Blue.


2.  George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess—the Great American Opera


Porgy and Bess was George Gershwin’s greatest labor of love and his most controversial masterpiece. Conceived as an opera, it opened on Broadway in 1935 to tepid and confused reviews. It was attacked on all sides for its racial themes, its dark plot, the use of operatic devices such as recitative, and its length. Yet the opera contains Gershwin’s greatest music, some of which is familiar to everyone. “Summertime”, “Bess, You is my Woman Now” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So” are among the most familiar and beautiful melodies of Gershwin’s career. The story of the crippled beggar Porgy and his love for Bess has been revised, and occasionally updated, to make the opera more attractive to modern tastes, but the music remains among the greatest American music ever written. This presentation explores the story of Porgy and Bess and the fascinating history of its life on the stage. It will include recordings from the original cast and a live performance of famous highlights from the opera in a special arrangement by the great American pianist and Gershwin specialist, Earl Wild.


3.  George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland:

musical connections among the great American composers


When Leonard Bernstein met Aaron Copland, he was 19, beginning his junior year at Harvard College. Aaron Copland was an established composer of 37, living in New York City. He had not yet composed the works for which he is most famous today—the series of ballets Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, and Billy the Kid—but he was a leader of the new young composers group based in New York City. Their meeting initiated a fifty-year friendship in which the older composer served as father figure, composition advisor, mentor and friend. Both men had an ambivalent relationship with the music of George Gershwin, the composer from Broadway who aspired to the composition of “serious” music. This presentation traces the course of the Bernstein/Copland friendship and discusses the background to their thoughts about Gershwin. The presentation includes two performances: Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Leonard Bernstein’s piano arrangement of Aaron Copland’s first great orchestral composition in his popular style—El Salon Mexico.


4.  Marches, Waltzes, Ragtime and Stride:

Popular Piano from Europe and the United States


The piano became the dominant home instrument on both sides of the Atlantic early in the 19th century and remained the stalwart center of musical life until a combination of radio, recorded music and electronic keyboards ended its dominance. Pianists required music based on the popular styles of the day, and included simple arrangements as well as more complex versions for gifted amateurs and professionals. In Europe, two main sources of popular music were the march and the waltz. In the United States, marches were turned into ragtime and the waltz was re-defined into an American genre. This presentation discusses these various popular forms including performed examples of European marches and waltzes as well as American rags, stride piano, and waltzes. Performances include the “Wedding March” by Edvard Grieg, a number of Scott Joplin’s wonderful rags, Zez Confrey’s spectacular “novelty piano” piece “Kitten on the Keys”, and concludes with Maurice Ravel’s great tribute to the waltz, Noble and Sentimental Waltzes.


5. Frederic Chopin and Isaac Albeniz: Two Giants of the Piano


The modern piano became the premiere solo concert instrument in the 1830’s because of advances in piano construction and the extraordinary invention of the modern piano technique by two friends and occasional rivals—Franz Liszt and Frederic Chopin. Liszt was the extrovert who enjoyed publicity, and became the most famous touring virtuoso pianist of his day. Chopin, the introvert, concentrated on his compositions and performed them often in private recitals. At the beginning of the 20th century, a Spanish piano virtuoso, one of Franz Liszt’s last pupils, composed a series of twelve remarkable pieces, for the piano. Published in four volumes, these twelve pieces are collectively titled Iberia. Its composer, Isaac Albeniz, succeeded in bringing together the virtuoso pianism of his teacher, the wonderful harmonies and colors of the French Impressionists Debussy and Ravel, and most importantly the rhythms and folk-melodies of his native Spain. Although Albeniz worried that he had written unplayable music making impossible technical demands, these pieces are now considered landmarks in piano composition. This presentation explores the contributions of these two musical giants. It will conclude with a performance of Chopin’s Ballade#1 in G Minor, and Albeniz’ “Rondena” from Iberia.