It was wet and cold in New York on today's date in 1925, but a curious crowd gathered at Carnegie Hall for a concert by the New York Symphony. Walter Damrosch was to conduct the world premiere of a new Piano Concerto by George Gershwin, who would also be the soloist.
The audience reacted with cheers and bravos, but the reviews were mixed: "Conventional, trite... [and] a little dull" was the verdict of one; but another was enthusiastic, suggesting: "Of all those writing the music of today, [Gershwin] alone actually expresses US." In the America of 1925, that "us" would have included the owners of speakeasies, raccoon coats, and Stutz Bearcat roadsters. It was the "Jazz Age"— an era magically captured in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel "The Great Gatsby."
Seventy-four years later, in December of 1999, John Harbison's opera based on "The Great Gatsby" premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, playing to sold-out houses. Once again, audiences were enthusiastic—the critics less so.
To capture the mood of the 1920s, Harbison had composed a number of original songs in Jazz-Age style, which he incorporated as themes in his opera. These tunes have even been published as a separate "Gatsby Songbook!"
Imagine: a modern opera with tunes audiences can actually hum as they leave the theater! What will they think of next?
Music Played in Today's Program
John Harbison (b.1938)Remembering GatsbyBaltimore Symphony; David Zinman, cond.Argo 444 454
George Gershwin (1898-1937)Piano Concerto in FPeter Jablonski, piano; Royal Philharmonic; Vladimir Ashkenazy, cond.London 430 542