Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue

Rebecca Varidel
27th Mar 2023

When Australian classical pianist Simon Tedeschi came to the stage, his blue suit dapper yet more casually worn, was in contrast to the black of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and of guest conductor Andrea Moleno. Tedeschi's clothes were fitting, as this music of Gershwin is often described as not quite classical, not quite jazz. It's Gershwin!

In an article for Sydney Symphony Orchestra Simon Tedeschi told Hugh Robertson he believes that, "rather than one or the other, Rhapsody in Blue has to be considered its own unique beast – 'more jazz-y than jazz,' he says with a smile."

“You are playing the blues. You're playing Rachmaninov, Grieg, Schumann. You're playing Latin American music. There's the Charleston in there, there's all kinds of amazing things.”

“You're playing the 20th century, but you're playing the experience of a man who really represents that point between the Old World and the new.”

“He had a tremendous regard for the classical music of the past. And he's still radical today. He's still incredibly radical.”

Gershwin has seen a rise to new heights of popularity in Sydney in the last few years. From the major production by the Australian Ballet of An American In Paris, to local musical Hayes Theatre award winning production by Michelle Guthrie with Nice Work If you Can Get It, and even small soirees by this renowned pianist, and Gershwin authority, Simon Tedeschi at suburban Camelot Lounge. Yet from all the music by Gershwin, does it get any better than the masterpiece Rhapsody In Blue

In his performance with Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Tedeschi's love as well as expertise of Gershwin shone through. In all my years of listening to music, of classical music, jazz, musical theatre, and many other musical genres, I don't think there is a single performance that I've enjoyed more. The collaboration between pianist, orchestra and conductor, all at the top of their games, and all utterly loving being together in this moment, came together as magic.

For this piece, Rhapsody In Blue is a piece not only that I know intimately, but is also a pin head in musical repertoire that is just right for our times. A piece of new hope, of optimism, of moving forward in a new world.

And for this reason, intimacy  - it is perhaps the most outstanding performance over very many, that I have seen. Simon Tedeschi and his backing group (no disrespect meant to the SSO) played with intimate familiarity, understanding, academic and emotional knowing, and pure utter joy. There was no separation. Tedeschi and his grand. Tedeschi and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Andrea Molino and the SSO. Andrea Molino and Simon Tedeschi. They were melded as one.

If I were older than my years, I could imagine Rhapsody In Blue being played by Gershwin himself - with the same nuance, emotion, fervour and (that overused word) passion, that we experienced at the Sydney Opera House.

Always fascinating is how the concert program is conceived. The subtitle of the night was New York Stories starting with a piece by living composer Paul-Anotoni Bonetti, commencing again after interval with Central Park In The Dark by Charles Ives and finishing an outstanding night of music with Symphonic Dances from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein.

This was as well formulated for its entrance, light and shade, and enticement as any four pieces could be 'strung together'. Such a beautiful program, to create a beautiful night.

One of my pleasures of the evening, was searching for the conductor on the stage after interval. And there he was, behind the strings and in front of the 'stars' of Central Park In The Dark directly conducting the woodwind and brass, standing half way inside the orchestra. Andrea Molino later returned to his podium, where his poetic and animated conducting style was a performance of beauty in itself.

For its rendition of Symphonic Dances, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra was tight, melodic and romantic. Yet from the many many times I have heard these, including many times listening to Bernstein himself conducting his own composition, the percussion was just a tiny tad light on for me. The performance needed more power in places. A small grievance only, and in fact not a grievance but rather more a personal preference, that didn't take at all away from my enjoyment of the evening.

While I'm writing of him, have you ever listened to Bernstein conduct Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue by any chance? This night, at the Sydney Opera House, with conductor Andrea Molino, guest pianist Simon Tedeschi, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra wins - in my humble opinion - hands down. Even over the Composer Maestro Bernstein himself.