George Gershwin was born in Brooklyn, New York, September 26, 1898. He began his musical training at thirteen. At fifteen he left high school to work as a pianist and song-plugger for musical publishers. He was soon writing songs. "Swanee," introduced by Al Jolson, brought Gershwin his first real fame. But it was George and his older brother, Ira, who became the dominant Broadway songwriters to emerge during the 1920's, creating a ceaseless flow of brisk, infectious rhythms and affectingly poignant ballads. Working together they fashioned the words to fit melodies with a "glove-like" fidelity. This extraordinary collaboration led to a succession of 22 musical comedies, among them Lady Be Good (1924), Oh, Kay! (1926), Funny Face (1927), Strike Up the Band (1927 & 1930), Girl Crazy (1930), and Of Thee I Sing (1931) - the first musical comedy to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Over the years, Gershwin songs have also been used in numerous films and in the award-winning stage musicals, My One and Only (1983) and Crazy For You (1992). Crazy For You is loosely based on Girl Crazy, with a new libretto by Ken Ludwig and has an impressive roster of George and Ira songs including two previously unpublished songs.

From his early career, Gershwin had ambitions to compose serious music. Asked by Paul Whiteman to write an original work for a special modern concert to be presented at Aeolian Hall in New York on February 12, 1924. Gershwin, who was hard at work on a musical comedy, barely finished his composition in time. From the first low chuckle of the solo clarinet and its spine-tingling run up the scale Rhapsody In Blue caught the public's fancy and opened a new era in American music.

In 1925, the eminent conductor, Walter Damrosch commissioned Gershwin to compose a piano concerto for the New York Symphony Society. Many feel that this Concerto in F is Gershwin's finest orchestral work. Others opt for An American in Paris (1928) or his Second Rhapsody For Piano and Orchestra which he introduced, with himself as the soloist, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Koussevitzsky in 1932.

Gershwin, fascinated by the DuBose Heyward novel Porgy, recognized it as a perfect vehicle for opera using jazz and blues rhythms and idioms. What he called a "folk opera", Porgy and Bess (co-written with DuBose and Dorothy Heyward and Ira Gershwin) was the Gershwin brothers' most ambitious undertaking, tightly integrating unforgettable songs with drama. Porgy and Bess was first performed in Boston, September 30, 1935 and opened on Broadway October 10. In addition to its 1942 and 1953 revivals and subsequent world tours, it was made into a major motion picture in 1959.

In 1937, George Gershwin was at the height of his career. His symphonic works and three Preludes for Piano were becoming part of the standard repertory for concerts and recitals, and his lighter songs had brought him ever increasing fame and fortune. It was in Hollywood, while he was working on the score of The Goldwyn Follies that George Gershwin collapsed and, on July 11, 1937, died of a brain tumour. He was not quite 39 years old.

Today Gershwin's works are sung and played with greater frequency than they were in his brief lifetime. The songs and concert pieces are proving to be an enduring legacy as a glance at the pages of any record catalogue will quickly show.


Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory | May 26, 2006

News and Press

[Concert Review] BMOP raps up another crowd-pleasing season

Conductor Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project closed this season’s subscription series Friday night with a good-time program of crossover music.

The Boston Globe Full review
[Interview] Highbrow big band: Boston Modern Orchestra Project swings both ways

I believe I’m supposed to blame Theodor Adorno for this, but somewhere along the way in the 20th century’s formative years, modern music got divvied up between “serious” and “popular” ears. As lame distinctions go, this one has proven particularly persistent, hanging around to this day in boiled-down form as an opposition between fun and not-fun. In any case, it has left us with an unnecessary schism in the way we understand American music.

The Weekly Dig Full review
[Press Release] BMOP brings big band music to Jordan Hall

The Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), ends its 2005-2006 concert season with "Big Band." BMOP is one of the few professional orchestras in the United States dedicated exclusively to performing and recording music of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Since it's founding in 1996, BMOP has programmed 46 concerts of contemporary orchestral music, released ten world premiere recordings, and won eight ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming.

Full review