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Jeff Spurgeon: On this broadcast, a favorite orchestra of Carnegie Hall returns, with a program of music by Kurt Weill, George Gershwin, and Igor Stravinsky. That ensemble, of course, is the Philadelphia Orchestra, here with their very popular conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Tonight, they brought works written in the early part of the 20th century to share on this concert from Nézet-Séguin. I'm Jeff Spurgeon, alongside John Schaefer.
John Schaefer: And it is a really interesting event. Part of Carnegie Hall's theme for the next few months, music from the Weimar Republic, the era of great cultural experimentation and growth in Germany from 1919 to 1933. We'll tell you a bit more about that later on with Carnegie Hall's Executive and Artistic Director Clive Gillinson, but for the moment I'll say that this concert also features a special guest performer. Actually, performers, plural, because the pianist Marcus Roberts will join the Philadelphia Orchestra on this program and he's bringing his own trio, the bassist Martin Jaffe and the drummer Jason Marsalis. Now here's Marcus Roberts talking about the piece he's going to play. See if you can guess what it is.
Marcus Roberts: I think that the beautiful thing that Gershwin and Whiteman did is they introduced something in the concert hall that gave a certain legitimacy to jazz, which at the time, you know, people just considered it for obvious, we won't get into the politics and the socialization of it, but for obvious reasons, people didn't really think it was all that.
Jeff Spurgeon: Well, as you know, the piece certainly was and still is all that. Pianist Marcus Roberts referring to George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue that you will hear on this broadcast tonight with the Philadelphia Orchestra. The Rhapsody turns 100 this year. It's a piece that has thrilled audiences since its first appearance at Aeolian Hall in New York City in February of 1924, with Paul Whiteman's orchestra and Gershwin himself at the piano.
In 2024, performers and presenters around the world are celebrating this incredible 100th anniversary of the
John Schaefer: And one of the reasons that so many different people can celebrate it is there are so many ways to approach it. We've got Bela Fleck, the banjo player, doing a Rhapsody in Bluegrass coming up this season.
The pianist Laura Downs commissioned Edmar Colon to do a Rhapsody in Blue reimagined with Afro Caribbean beats to it.
Jeff Spurgeon: And there are pianists of every stripe playing the work in all kinds of places. Simone Dinnerstein is doing a performance at the Library of Congress with research done to find out the original nuances in the score.
John Schaefer: And so having a piano trio, a jazz piano trio, as the kind of group soloist in Rhapsody in Blue, just part of this wonderful panoply of sound that we're hearing this year to celebrate the centennial of Rhapsody in Blue. But that's later. We're going to start the concert with Petrushka, by Igor Stravinsky, a work he wrote in 1911, and later updated in 1947. It was first conceived of as a piece for piano and orchestra, but became famous as a dance score for Sergei Diaghilev's dance company, the Ballets Russes. And this 1947 revision was intended to make it more of an orchestral showpiece, rather than a ballet score. Now, that time period, 1911, and those years around that, that period were a time of great creativity for Stravinsky. He wrote The Firebird in 1910 and, of course, the great Rite of Spring in 1913.
Jeff Spurgeon: So, what we're about to hear, Petrushka, this is the narrative, roughly the story. There are three puppet characters. The Moor, handsome, dashing; the ballerina, beautiful and graceful; and Petrushka, more of a clown figure, not as charming as the Moor by any measure. And then, a fourth character, the magician, who, with the wave of a flute as a magic wand, brings these puppets to life and they begin to dance. There's a love story. Petrushka falls in love with a ballerina. The ballerina loves the Moor. The love triangle's right there and it doesn't end well.
John Schaefer: Do they ever?
Jeff Spurgeon: Hardly ever. This one concludes with a duel, and the Moor kills Petrushka.
John Schaefer: But wait, as they used to say on late night TV, there's more, because Petrushka comes back to life, sort of life, to haunt the magician puppet maker and curses him for making Petrushka come to life. Now if you're wondering who Petrushka is Uh, he is essentially Pulcinella in Italy, or you may know him as Punch from Punch and Judy in, uh, the English-speaking world.
And his main trait, wherever he goes, is that he's a trickster whose shenanigans often have the reverse effect of what's intended. Uh, in St. Petersburg, which was Stravinsky's home city at the time, Petrushka puppet shows were often set up in colorful booths, like a Punch and Judy show, at fairs during Shrovetide, which was the week of festivities before Lent. Kind of the Russian version of Mardi Gras. And that term, Shrove Tide, it crops up in a lot of the movement titles.
Jeff Spurgeon: Yeah, the first section, in fact, is called the Shrove Tide Fair, the magic trick. It's where we see the puppets all gathered together. The Shrove Tide Fair is happening and then the magician appears and starts things going.
Then we'll hear Petrushka's Room, the Moor's Room, the Dance of the Ballerina, and a final section of Shrove Tide Fair music as well, including Dances of Nursemaids, The Coachmen, The Stable Boys, and fitting for the final movement of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the last part is called The Mummers. That's a Philadelphia tradition.
John Schaefer: The Mummers Parade. I actually remember seeing a Mummers Parade in 1979 in Philadelphia and wondering, what is this? It is a very Philadelphia specific tradition.
Jeff Spurgeon: Been going on since the start of the 19th century, a big New Year's Day, New Year's Day tradition in Philadelphia.
So the stage door at Carnegie Hall is closed, the lights are down in the audience and we're backstage with Concertmaster David Kim and Philadelphia's Music Director Yannick Nézet- Séguin.
And so, going on stage now, David Kim, and we are about to transport ourselves through music to a Shrovetide Fair in Russia for a great piece of music by Igor Stravinsky.
John Schaefer: And again, this will be the bigger 1947 orchestration of, uh, Stravinsky's Petrushka from the Philadelphia Orchestra, kicking off a concert of music that will also include two composers who moved freely between the worlds of the popular music of the day, and in fact, even helped establish what the popular music of the day would be, and the concert hall, and those are, of course, George Gershwin and Kurt Weill, coming up in the second half of the program.
But right now, the orchestra is tuned, Yannick Nézet-Séguin is about to take the stage. He's had a, he's had a few faces to make at us while we were, uh, talking about the Mummers Parade, so I guess he knows that tradition.
Jeff Spurgeon: There was a moment with someone backstage too, but everything's fine now, everything's fine.
So on stage, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra, a very popular act here at Carnegie Hall. Well received tonight, and they begin this concert with Stravinsky's Petrushka from Nézet-Séguin.
[MUSIC – STRAVINSKY’S PETRUSHKA]
Jeff Spurgeon: From Carnegie Hall Live, the Philadelphia Orchestra and music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin just took you to a Shrovetide fair for a puppet show with a little something extra, a little magic in it. Igor Stravinsky's Petrushka. Performed on this concert from Carnegie Hall Live. Backstage, I'm Jeff Spurgeon alongside John Schaefer.
John Schaefer: And certainly a well-received performance of Petrushka from a typically boisterous crowd here at Carnegie Hall tonight. He is known and loved here in New York, brings the Philadelphians here quite often. Of course, music director as well at the Metropolitan Opera. As I say, a familiar and much-loved figure on the New York classical music scene, and of course, back in Philadelphia as well. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, making his way off the stage here at Carnegie Hall, and bringing us to intermission, and coming up in the second half, we'll have two works, the Symphony No. 2 by Kurt Weill. and the Rhapsody in Blue, famous piece by George Gershwin, celebrating its centennial in 2024. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, though, back out on stage, almost as quickly as he came off, he went back out, and is now congratulating the various members of the orchestra who were featured in Stravinsky's Petrushka.
Jeff Spurgeon: And that's just about every great section of the orchestra, lots of work for pianists, trumpeters, trombonists. It's a great piece, and the members of the Philadelphia Orchestra are saluting their colleagues as Nézet-Séguin goes through the orchestra and asks individuals to be acknowledged by the audience.
It's such an incredibly colorful piece, and to imagine the creator of the role of Petrouchka, that was the great Nijinsky, um, who created that role and broke some old rules of ballet choreography. He was a perky, jerky, um, puppet on stage. It was a real change in technique. The original choreography by Michel Fokine has also remained a part of this piece which has remained in the ballet repertoire for now more than a hundred and fifteen years.
John Schaefer: So 1911 was the original version of Petrushka, this the 1947 orchestration. The story is that he did this so there could be more of an orchestral showpiece. Stravinsky was also known to revise a lot of his works when he moved to America to establish copyright on those pieces. Make sure he got paid for them.
Jeff Spurgeon: Clever fellow.
John Schaefer: Yeah, absolutely. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, still in and among the members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and now gesturing to the whole orchestra to rise and share in the applause.
Jeff Spurgeon: Stravinsky's work drove music forward into the 20th century in those early years, and we'll explore some more of that progress of music in the second part of this concert from Carnegie Hall Live when the Philadelphia Orchestra return to bring you the Symphony No. 2 of Kurt Weill and then a very special performance of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with the Philadelphia Orchestra and jazz pianist Marcus Roberts and his trio, who have been taking this iconic American work and, uh, spinning it around in a jazz room for a number of years now. And, uh, and completely properly so.
John Schaefer: Absolutely, when you consider what the roots of Rhapsody in Blue were. So, we'll be getting to that in the second half of the program. Now, we mentioned earlier in the broadcast that Carnegie Hall is hosting a festival, a festival about the Weimar Republic.
It's called Fall of the Weimar Republic, Dancing on the Precipice. And for the next four and a half months or so, Carnegie Hall and a lot of other institutions around New York City will be presenting concerts and films, art exhibitions, theater, and more, exploring this extraordinary time between the two world wars in Germany where they suffered catastrophic hyperinflation, and yet, at the same time, this incredible explosion of art and music.
Jeff Spurgeon: It's an amazing time, and the Kurt Weill piece that we'll hear fits right into that theme. The Second Symphony, written at a very precarious time in Europe, 1933, the year that Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany.
Now the idea for this Weimar Festival at Carnegie Hall came from the hall's executive and artistic director, Clive Gillinson, and he told us how the festival idea developed and why the atmosphere of a century ago in Germany and other parts of the world is so important for us to explore here, right now.
Clive Gillinson: It was a concept I've long wanted to explore. I just put it on the agenda as one of the ideas for us to play with. And the interesting thing was, I went out to dinner with one trustee and his wife, and I floated it at dinner, and the trustee said, "Clive, I think it's too risky, I don't think you should do it, I think it's a bit too contentious," um, and so we moved on, and as we were walking out from dinner, I was walking out with his wife, and he was walking out with my wife, and she leant over to me and she said, "Clive, do it. Don't take any notice of him." So look, it's, I mean, of course it's contentious. Um, and of course it's controversial, but then that's what the arts should be anyway. You know, but the point is we're never telling anybody what to think. Uh, as far as we're concerned, what we're trying to do is raise questions, raise issues, look at some of the important issues of the day, and, and just make sure that people are thinking about them and talking about them. And I think it's stimulating curiosity and stimulating conversation that is a central part of our role. You know, when one looks at the world as a whole, democracy is fragile, and there have been periods throughout history where it seems secure, and then somebody like Hitler comes along, and you suddenly realize, unless you nurture it and look after it, It can just disappear overnight, and after all, Hitler was elected. Um, he was elected by democratic means and then used all the pillars of democracy to overthrow democracy. Then, of course, you had a number of Jewish composers who actually had to leave Germany. I mean, the Kurt Weills, Korngolds, all of these people, who were part of the development of music there and then became part of where music went here as well. So there were physical connections in that way too. But for whatever reason, it was this, not only was it a thrilling time for music, it also, I mean, there was a sense of danger within the music as well. And I think, you know, what was happening was also, the danger of it was also reflected in the music too.
MUSIC - “Und der Haifisch, der hat Zähne, und die trägt er im Gesicht.”
But then you think of pieces like the Miraculous Mandarin as well, I mean, which is so anarchic and so savage.
You know, and some of the Stravinsky. I mean there's a lot of music, um, sort of around or following, but around the period, which picks up on all of that as well. I mean, the interesting thing is, you know, our artists are wanting to involve institutions around the city like MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum and, you know, large organizations like that, but also much smaller ones like the Jewish Museum and so on.
So we've got, you know, a tremendous number of different lenses through which we're able to look at this period. And I think everybody is horribly aware that this is an acute issue for the world today. Democracy is under threat. In many, many countries, and even countries that were not particularly democratic.
I mean, it was token democracy. A lot of those countries, it's not even token anymore. It's disappeared and it's just pure dictatorship. You know, these are issues that everybody feels we should be thinking about and talking about. And that we have to look after democracy is the most important thing.
John Schaefer: That is Carnegie Hall's Executive and Artistic Director, Clive Gillinson. One of the things Clive mentioned to us is that the festival has a number of cabaret shows. I mean, cabaret nightlife in Berlin during the Weimar Republic was an art form unto itself. And, um, many of the cabaret shows are already almost sold out.
They include performances by Justin Austin, Meow Meow, Alan Cumming with the Hot Sardines, and a personal favorite, Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester. If that one still has tickets available, you should treat yourself. They are extraordinary musicians and great fun.
Jeff Spurgeon: And amazing entertainers, and you heard Max Raabe singing Mac the Knife in that presentation just a moment ago.
John Schaefer: One of the great long-time champions of the music of the Weimar Republic here in New York is the German born singer Ute Lemper. She has an upcoming performance at Carnegie's Zankel Hall that will feature the music of that period, including a lot of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. And, uh, Ute stopped by our studios recently to perform some of those songs.
And we'll hear a selection now from Kurt Weill, from the Three Penny Opera, you know it, maybe you love it, The Ballad of Mack the Knife.
MUSIC – MACK THE KNIFE
Jeff Spurgeon: That was Ute Lemper singing Mack the Knife. And in fact, that's a recent performance of hers that will be featured on a podcast of the, uh, John Schaefer's show of, uh, of, uh, New Sounds. So that's, uh, coming up on a February 5th. Very good. And, uh, Ute Lemper is one of the performers who is featured in this amazing Carnegie Hall Festival.
Most festivals at Carnegie are two weeks, three weeks. This one's going on for several months at the insistence and with enthusiastic participation by, uh, dozens of partners around New York City, organizations large and small. who want to be a part of this Fall of the Weimar Republic: Dancing on the Precipice Festival.This concert that you're hearing tonight is one of those as well.
This is Classical New York 105. 9 FM at HD, WQXR, Newark and 90. 3 FM WQXW, Ossining.
This is a live broadcast from Carnegie Hall. I'm Jeff Spurgeon alongside John Schaefer. We're at intermission of this concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra. And, uh, we've been watching a lot of stage changes around us. taken away a lot of the forces that were on stage for the Petrushka in the first half, a smaller orchestra for the next work we're going to hear, and you may have heard some piano tinkling in the background that had nothing to do with Ute Lemper. That was the piano being tuned for Marcus Roberts to play in Rhapsody in Blue in a few minutes.
John Schaefer: Right, so we, uh, first we have the small matter of a symphony by Kurt Weill, who, in addition to writing songs like Mack the Knife, an Alabama song, was also, uh, an adept composer of concert music, so we'll get his Symphony No 2. And then, uh, Jeff, as you say, pianist Marcus Roberts and his trio, piano, Bass, and drums, as a kind of collective soloist in a special performance of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. And what will make this performance so special is Marcus Roberts take on the work and his own improvisation. And as he said, it was one of the first pieces on the American musical landscape that gave legitimacy to jazz, especially in how the Rhapsody lends itself to interpretation.
Marcus Roberts: The beauty of the themes and the clarity of the Americanism in the piece is why I felt okay with doing it. Like, when people have asked me, well, would you improvise on Mozart? No. Because I don't know enough about his language to feel comfortable doing that. You know, there has to be like a real authenticity in these, um, collaborative enterprises for me.
So I felt very good with it because I grew up in church, so I'm very familiar with soul and the blues and gospel music, and so those themes just sounded like what I was already wanting to do.
Jeff Spurgeon: Marcus Roberts. Before we hear him with the Philadelphia Orchestra and, uh, with the Marcus Roberts Trio in the Rhapsody in Blue, here's a little of Marcus Roberts alone, playing some Duke Ellington.
Jeff Spurgeon: Pianist Marcus Roberts, with some of Duke Ellington's Mood Indigo from his album Alone with Three Giants, Ellington being one, Jelly Roll Morton and Thelonious Monk the other two on that recording with Marcus Roberts. Well, we'll hear Marcus Roberts with yet another giant, George Gershwin, in a few minutes.
But right now, intermission is beginning to wind down, more members of the Philadelphia Orchestra are coming back on stage. And we are getting ready for the second work on this concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra, music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin. We've enjoyed Petrushka by Stravinsky. Up next, music of Kurt Weill.
John Schaefer: And this actually is the work on the program. You could make a case for the Gershwin, too, but this is the work that is specifically associated with the festival that we've been talking about, called Fall of the Weimar Republic, Dancing on a Precipice. Uh, Kurt Weill, of course, known for his dramatic stage works with Bertolt Brecht, which gave us songs like Mack the Knife, plays like the Three Penny Opera, the Seven Deadly Sins, the City of Mahogany.
But he also wrote concert music, choral pieces, chamber music, there's a concerto for violin and winds, and two symphonies, the second of which we will hear in just a moment.
Jeff Spurgeon: Kurt Weill started writing this symphony in 1933, that was the year that Hitler came to power, the year that Weill, a Jew, had to flee Germany.
He went first to France, and then came to America, and was very excited to come to America. He said that when, when he and his wife, Lotte Lenya, were on the ship, seeing the Statue of Liberty, some of the people on the ship with him appeared worried about this new country. He said, we felt like we were coming home.
He became an American citizen.
John Schaefer: And changed the pronunciation of his name.
Jeff Spurgeon: Yes, indeed. So, Kurt Weill is, he's German, and after he arrived in this country, he stopped speaking German, eschewed the language completely, never lost the accent, but uh, he said, I'm Kurt Weill from now on. And so, either way is correct, we say.
John Schaefer: So interesting story, uh, the background of this, of this symphony commissioned by Princess Edmond de Polignac, who also commissioned works by Stravinsky and Eric Satie and Poulenc and others. Although that's a fancy title, Princess Edmond de Polignac, she was in fact an American. She was a member of the Singer family, as in the Singer sewing machines. So royalty of a different sort, I suppose. And in fact the first performance of the symphony was in her home to a private audience, and it was the German conductor Bruno Walter who eventually gave the first public performance in Amsterdam, and championed it and brought it to New York. It had its Carnegie Hall premiere in December of that year, 1934, with the New York Philharmonic. We are about to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra performing it with Yannick Nézet-Séguin giving us a thumbs up as he prepares to take center stage with the Philadelphia Orchestra here at Carnegie Hall to perform the Symphony No. 2 by Kurt Weill, a work that might have a hint of Mahler in it. Uh, which would explain Bruno Walter's enthusiastic, yeah, enthusiastic championing of the piece. But see what you think. Uh, the orchestra back out on stage, they're tuned, ready to go. Stage door opens, and out strides Yannick Nézet-Séguin to lead the Philadelphia Orchestra in this Carnegie Hall Live performance of the Kurt Weill Symphony No. 2.
MUSIC – WEILL SYMPHONY NO. 2
Jeff Spurgeon: If you know Mack the Knife, if you know September Song, you may still not know this piece of music written by the same man, Kurt Weill, his Symphony No. 2, performed on this broadcast from Carnegie Hall, live by the Philadelphia Orchestra and their music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Backstage, I'm Jeff Spurgeon, alongside John Schaefer.
John Schaefer: 1934 piece by, uh, Kurt Weill [VILE] as he was still known then, using the German pronunciation of his name before he settled here in the States. Yannick Nézet-Séguin back out at center stage to, uh, as he did at the end of the Stravinsky performance to point out some of the members of the Philadelphia Orchestra who had important solo roles to play in that piece by Kurt Weill.
And although Jeff, as you say. This is a kind of a far cry from September Song or Alabama Song or Mack the Knife, there are still some very tuneful moments in this symphony, especially some of the wind writing. You could hear him spinning a melody and thinking, hmm, wonder what I could do with that elsewhere.
Jeff Spurgeon: I think that composers who have the gift of melody can't stop themselves. Schubert couldn't stop himself in his symphonies. Leonard Bernstein wrote great symphonic music, but there were melodies there, and Kurt Weill had that gift as well, and yes, couldn't restrain himself in portions of this three movement symphony that, as you said, got its first performance in 1934, championed by Bruno Walter, and first performed by Walter and the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall in the same year that it was officially introduced in Europe, in 1934.
John Schaefer: All right, so we have one more work on this program, and it's going to take a little bit more of a reset of the stage, because there's a rhythm section to, uh, to accommodate. Marcus Roberts has brought along his bass player, Martin Jaffe, and his drummer, Jason Marsalis, who, yes, is part of that famous first family of American jazz.
Son of Ellis, and therefore brother to Branford and Wynton and Delfeayo and all the rest of them. Uh, so, we're going to have a little bit of a reset of the stage, which gives us some time to tell you about Marcus himself, who is not just, uh, an award- winning jazz pianist, but also a composer, an educator. He began playing the piano when he was five, after losing his sight. He didn't have any actual formal training till he was 12. He attended the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, and then received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Florida State. He now has an honorary doctorate from the Juilliard School.
Jeff Spurgeon: Marcus Roberts has received lots of awards and, uh, for all his musical accolades, and there are many of them, he says he's most proud of the Helen Keller Achievement Award. That is an award given to individuals and organizations who have improved the quality of life for people with disabilities. Other recipients of the Helen Keller Achievement Award are Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, jazz pianist George Shearing, and the great jazz singer, pianist Diane Schuur.
John Schaefer: That's exalted company.
Jeff Spurgeon: Indeed. Marcus Roberts has lots of recordings, solo piano, small jazz ensembles, and projects with larger groups as well. He made a DVD with the Berlin Philharmonic featuring his arrangement of George Gershwin's Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra, but we're going to hear the earlier Gershwin concerto on this concert.
John Schaefer: The Rhapsody in Blue coming up. Uh, also, uh, Marcus Roberts, his long association with George and Ira Gershwin includes a 1994 recording called Gershwin for Lovers. Here is a little bit of that recording.
MUSIC – GERSHWIN’S “THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME”
That's a little bit of the Marcus Roberts Trio playing George Gershwin's "They Can't Take That Away From Me" from the 1994 CD called Gershwin for Lovers.
The stage here at Carnegie Hall being set up with piano, bass and drums for the Marcus Roberts Trio to join the Philadelphia Orchestra on that iconic Gershwin piece celebrating its centennial this year, Rhapsody in Blue.
Now, we talked to Marcus about his approach to this piece as a musician who is grounded in both classical and jazz.
Marcus Roberts: It's easy to find syncopation, which is the key for us. To find what Jelly Roll Morton called the sound of surprise, like that's, that's easy for us to find in our music. So, we just have to work towards all of these things with a flexible attitude.
So any time I play a cadenza at this point with Rhapsody, it's always completely different. And I don't know if it's going to be coming from the standpoint of the gospel tradition or if it's going to be some combination of gospel mixed with some abstract French harmonies. I don't know. But I just make sure that the people can follow it and the structure of the piece remains intact, and I think that's why it's been a pretty successful, uh, you know, innovative idea as far as bringing two worlds together. They really shouldn't be separated, in my opinion.
Jeff Spurgeon: Marcus Roberts talking about his approach to Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. which we are about to experience with his trio and with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Quite a show, actually, as the stagehands moved the piano out, uh, anchored that, uh, drum kit to the floor, sealed it down on a pad to deal with some of the acoustical properties of it, and and now the orchestra is set, and we're getting ready for the, uh, beginning of this amazing, uh, American, as we've said, iconic work for piano and orchestra, but given a twist tonight in this special reimagining by the Marcus Roberts Trio.
John Schaefer: And not the first time that we have heard a kind of a different take on Rhapsody in Blue on these Carnegie Hall Live performances. Jeff, we were here for a two piano version. With three pianists. With three pianists, yes. Lang Lang, the late Chick Corea,
Jeff Spurgeon: Maxim Lando, who was a protege of Lang Lang.
John Schaefer: Of Lang Lang, because he had hurt, he had injured himself.
Jeff Spurgeon: Yeah, Lang Lang was unwell for a bit.
John Schaefer: Three pianists. Two pianos, with orchestra. So, um, but today, it's one pianist, with his trio, and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, leading the Philadelphia Orchestra. And making their way now, out on stage, the members of the Marcus Roberts Trio, with Marcus at the piano, Martin Jaffe on bass, Jason Marsalis on drums, and accompanying them to center stage, conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who is joining in the applause as the trio take their spaces, their spots, at center stage.
Jeff Spurgeon: That applause for Marcus Roberts. Big bow to the audience. Yannick now getting over to the podium and we'll have that famous clarinet beginning for Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.
MUSIC – GERSHWIN’S RHAPSODY IN BLUE
John Schaefer: A mighty roar from the audience here at Carnegie Hall for that performance of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra and featuring The Marcus Roberts Trio. Marcus Roberts at center stage taking a bow. The incredible jazz pianist, composer, and educator with his long-time drummer Jason Marsalis and bassist Martin Jaffe.
The three of them now joined by Yannick Nézet-Séguin at center stage here at Carnegie Hall. And the rest of the Philadelphia Orchestra rising to join in the applause as well. And what a remarkable performance that was of Rhapsody in Blue. Jeff, you know, we know the Ferde Grofé later version, the big orchestral version, the United Airlines version.
Jeff Spurgeon: Yes, that's right, the big post romantic version, right?
John Schaefer: But Ferde Grofé also did the original version, which was for piano and essentially a dance band.
Jeff Spurgeon: That's right.
John Schaefer: And here we had the Philadelphia Orchestra. I mean, it is an orchestra. There are lots of strings. But they were giving us,
Jeff Spurgeon: they gave us some of that, uh, that, that punchier up and down sound of early jazz in the 1920s that got smoothed out as time went by.
And I loved also that we got to, we got to visit some jazz neighborhoods.
John Schaefer: Yes.
Jeff Spurgeon: We, we, we heard the boogie woogie coming through in that, in that, uh, portion of the Rhapsody that some people think of as a sort of a, uh, something that Gershwin, the story goes, wrote on a train, hearing the train rhythms underneath.
We got to visit the stride piano sound that he brought in. And, uh, and so we enjoyed so many wonderful, uh, journeys through the jazz world with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Ferde Grofé's orchestrations right there alongside it.
John Schaefer: A remarkable performance to round out this concert here at Carnegie Hall.
The three members of the Marcus Roberts Trio still basking in the applause, now joined by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who, I have to say, you know, this is a challenging piece. It's a familiar work for a conductor, but this was a very, very different performance with a pianist who was in the moment.
Jeff Spurgeon: Yeah, improvising and who cannot communicate um, with, it just had to be done through feel, through understanding, through a little rehearsal, uh, just as, as music should be made. And so, with this concert concluded, the Philadelphia Orchestra is leaving the stage, but we are very privileged right now to have Marcus Roberts join us here at the Carnegie Hall Live microphones.
Congratulations, Marcus, on that great performance. What a thrill. Oh, to hear that work.
Marcus Roberts: Oh, thank you so much. We, we had a great time.
John Schaefer: We hope you had as much fun playing it as we all did listening.
Marcus Roberts: No, I did. I, I tell you to, to play this, uh, you know, fantastic piece at Carnegie Hall with, uh, this wonderful Philadelphia Orchestra and this great trio that I'm blessed to be with, uh, I tell you, I, I, uh, don't really have the words, but I felt what I like to refer to as communion with the, with the people as I played it.
Jeff Spurgeon: Oh, I think the audience was with you from, from the word go and the orchestra as well. When you sit down to do a piece like this, is there any, is there any forethought, isn't quite the right word.
Marcus Roberts: Yeah, no.
Jeff Spurgeon: But, but do you, do you think, well, tonight I think we're gonna go in this direction. Do you plan it ahead at all, or is it just when your hands hit the keys?
Marcus Roberts: Well, I start off with what I call conscious improvisation, meaning I'll have a general road map, but then when the subconscious takes over and then I just try to see where the music wants me to go. And usually whatever I had in mind ends up getting changed. It's one of those things where, um, true improvisation is a lot like life, you know, you're trying to go to a store and then the road's closed and you just got to find another way, right?
Jeff Spurgeon: So you make a plan and then you throw the plan out.
Marcus Roberts: Then you throw the plan out.
Jeff Spurgeon: If you have to do it. Make it up.
John Schaefer: But there's another person along for the ride going to that store with you, and that is the conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who is put in the position, Marcus, of Paul Whiteman at the first performance of Rhapsody in Blue, because famously Gershwin hadn't finished his piano part yet.
Marcus Roberts: Right.
John Schaefer: And wrote in the score to the conductor, "wait for nod."
Marcus Roberts: Yeah, I know.
John Schaefer: So, how, how, how do you let him know? Is it a nod or are there cues?
Marcus Roberts: Well, it's interesting, especially you've got a blind guy who's not looking at the conductor, right?
John Schaefer: Right, right.
Marcus Roberts: But, you know, we have, um, a nice set of cues that I give that are very clear that fit right in with the score, so that it's very clear. For Yannick to know, okay, we're two bars before rehearsal six, and then he brings them right in. It's, it's not quite as magical as we might all want to think it is.
John Schaefer: Hey, magic tricks take a lot of rehearsal.
Marcus Roberts: I mean, there's still a lot of trust that has to happen. Because what if I don't play the two bars, right?
Jeff Spurgeon: Well, and you have that wonderful trust with, uh, with the members of your trio. Um, uh, Jason just Oh my, yeah. lifts up the whole orchestra Yeah, he with, with that smooth and quiet precision that just offers so much momentum, so much forward momentum.
Marcus Roberts: Yeah, he's a, you know, he's a genius and, uh, you know, what I love about Jason is that he's one of the few drummers that I've worked with who, he always plays what the music requires instead of showing off what it is that he can do.
John Schaefer: Yeah. And so the orchestra has to make room not just for you and your improvisations, but for a full jazz combo. You know, so there's, there's got to be a lot of give and take in the, the sort of the creation of how the road map of this piece is going to go.
Marcus Roberts: Well, yeah. Well, what we want is, you know, we want, we want both art forms to be authentically represented. So when it's time for the orchestra to do their thing, we, we want to make sure that we support them and we become, we go from being a trio to being a rhythm section. So our job at that point is to support a company and bring out the colors and the timbres that they're playing and allow them, you know what I mean, to follow the conductor and do what they wish to do.
John Schaefer: Well you certainly, the trio sound does color the orchestra. Jeff and I were talking just while you were still center stage, you know, being showered with applause, how the orchestration here even though it's the Philadelphia Orchestra with full string ensemble, they really went for that kind of jazz band, that 1920s jazz band sound.
Jeff Spurgeon: Did you influence that, or is that the orchestra, or Yannick, conversations in rehearsal?
Marcus Roberts: I think that's what a true collaboration is. It becomes a give and take, where I think we all follow, honestly, the democratic principles of America. You know, we listen to each other, we deal with, uh, communion or community instead of, uh, resistance.
We deal with cooperation instead of anarchy and we try to basically state our individuality through group identity, a group purpose and a group identity. And I think that when these two great art forms come together and we have this great composer who composes so much great music. That's really the best of America.
John Schaefer: Um, it's the centennial year for Rhapsody in Blue. Are you doing this a lot this year?
Marcus Roberts: Yeah, we're doing it quite a bit.
John Schaefer: Different every night?
Marcus Roberts: It's different, oh yeah, it's different every night, it's different every time. And of course what we, what we want people to do is absolutely celebrate the 100 years, but realize that tonight we recreated it right now, just for this audience.
And, uh, we believe that the relevance of jazz music and classical music is still here and we encourage people to listen to it and think of everything as being right now.
John Schaefer: Hmm. Well, that audience was there with you. They felt the relevance. They were there right now.
Marcus Roberts: Yes, they were. That was and that's inspirational for us. And that actually, you know, that kind of influence, maybe we influence them and then their reaction influences us. And it's it's just a beautiful Uh, collaborative thing, even with the people being involved.
Jeff Spurgeon: Yeah, absolutely. Marcus Roberts, thank you so much for the, for the amazing performance tonight and for spending a little time with us after the concert here.
Marcus Roberts: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you all for, you know, broadcasting this great concert.
Jeff Spurgeon: We're, we're so pleased to do it and so pleased you were a part of it. Marcus Roberts, who with his trio joined the Philadelphia Orchestra tonight for Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and earlier in the program we heard Stravinsky's Petrushka, and the second symphony of Kurt Weill.
John Schaefer: And our thanks to Clive Gillinson and the staff here at Carnegie Hall. WQXR's recording engineers include George Wellington, Duke Marcos, Noriko Okabe, and Bill Siegmund. The production team for WQXR includes Eileen Delahunty, Max Fine, Christine Herskovits, Aimée Buchanan, and Yueqing Guo.
I'm John Schaefer.
Jeff Spurgeon: And I'm Jeff Spurgeon. Carnegie Hall Live is a co-production of WQXR and Carnegie Hall.