Ending an 18-month tour that began in New York last year, and has touched down in, among other places, Rome, Washington and Long Island, conductor Maurice Peress, pianist Ivan Davis and an ad hoc orchestra bring "Paul Whiteman's Historic Aeolian Hall Concert" to Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena tonight and Wednesday.
The program is a musical re-creation of the concert in New York City on Feb. 12, 1924, at which George Gershwin played the highly successful world premiere of his "Rhapsody in Blue."
And it is, according to Davis, "pretty authentic."
With one deletion--Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance" March No. 1, which actually closed the concert, right after the Rhapsody--it revives the original program. Doing that, it also offers music by Victor Herbert, Ferde Grofe, Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern, in the format and style Whiteman (1890-1967) called "symphonic jazz." The genre made Whiteman famous, the irony in that fame being that Whiteman was in fact no specialist in either symphonic music or jazz.
Stylistically, as Davis points out, "The tempos, which are really fast, in accordance with the composer's wishes and actual performing style, are also authentic. In his letters, Gershwin often refers to 'hot' tempos. We've got them."
Also, Davis says, "The banjo is very important as part of the style of the piece. The banjo should be seated close to the piano." When all these elements are right, the Texas-born pianist believes, "We start to see why it is that the audience went wild at the premiere."
Almost all the original participants are gone. But one, violinist Kurt Dieterle, who lives in Southern California, will be present at these two performances, and will even play in the orchestra.
"After 60 years, this concert is a breath of fresh air," Davis says, on the phone from his home in Florida.
"It re-creates an era and a way of life which are completely extinct now. You might call this program, 'The Streets of New York,' but it has nothing to do with 1985." For instance: Aeolian Hall, which no longer exists, was just a block away from Town Hall (which still stands, on 43rd Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue).
"As you know, there is no definitive edition of the Rhapsody. Ferde Grofe wrote the original orchestration for the Aeolian Hall performance, for jazz band and six or eight strings. But, over the years, a number of other arrangements were made, and used." For the 60th anniversary edition of the concert, given last year, Davis says, "Maurice Peress did a lot of research, even hunted down all the original parts."
Earl Wild, the veteran pianist who first played the Rhapsody, as well as Gershwin's Concerto in F, under the baton of Arturo Toscanini, in the late 1930s, and later toured the United States (1948-52) as soloist in both works with Whiteman, agrees that no definitive performing edition of the Rhapsody exists.
"There is no authentic version," he says, "Every conductor seemed to make his own. Over the years, I've played it in soupy orchestrations with huge string sections, and in smaller, jazz-band arrangements."