“Life is a lot like jazz… it’s best when you improvise,” said famous American composer George Gershwin. The DuPage Symphony Orchestra and Maestra Barbara Schubert prepared a concert program called “American Spirituals & American Jazz” featuring the music of George Gershwin and William Grant Still.
The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11, at Wentz Concert Hall, 171 E. Chicago Ave, in Naperville.
This celebration of American spirituals and jazz will feature Symphony No. 2 in G Minor (Song of a New Race) by William Grant Still and Concerto in F for piano and orchestra by George Gershwin.
“Jazz is a distinctly American musical style and this inclusion into traditional symphonic music was highly innovative and demonstrated America’s contributions to classical music,” wrote Amber Broderick, DuPage Symphony Orchestra general manager.
The orchestra will open its Feb. 11 concert with George Gershwin’s energetic “Cuban Overture.”
“The Cuban Overture was originally entitled Rumba and received its premiere under that title by the New York Philharmonic in August 1932 in New York City,” wrote the DuPage Symphony Orchestra principal French horn player, musicologist, and music educator Dr. Gary Greene in the program notes. “The work was inspired by a trip the composer made to Havana in February 1932; he composed the work that summer, basing its main theme on the then-popular song Échale Salsita by Ignacio Piñeiro.”
As Greene mentioned, this is how Gershwin described writing The Cuban Overture: “I have endeavored to combine the Cuban rhythms with my own thematic material. The result is a symphonic overture that embodies the essence of the Cuban dance.”
The Second Symphony (“Song of a New Race”), written by William Grant Still, will continue the program. Still was born in 1895 in Mississippi. Being called the Dean of African American composers, Still is a tremendously important composer who broke through many racial barriers.
Dr. Preston Wilson, a Ryder College music education professor, noted in the video and concert notes that Still “studied the violin at age 14 and self-taught on other instruments, but excelled at the cello and oboe.”
Still became an important figure in American culture representing African Americans and their wonderful music and heritage. As Dr. Wilson noted, Still’s “firsts” include being first African American composer to have a symphony performed by a professional orchestra in the U.S., first African American to conduct a major symphony orchestra, and first African American composer whose opera was performed and televised by a major opera company.
DuPage Symphony Orchestra will conclude this concert with Gershwin’s Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra. Just as Still’s Second Symphony, this work incorporates jazz and blues idioms into traditional classical music for a fresh perspective.
George Gershwin was one of the most popular composers of the early 20th century, along with his brother and lyricist Ira; together they created tuneful enduring classics like “I’ve Got Rhythm” and “Porgy and Bess.” Gershwin was born Jacob Gershowitz in 1898 in New York. He was a son of Russian-Jewish immigrants and started studying music at age 11 when his family bought a secondhand piano for his brother.
As Dr. Wilson mentioned in his notes, Concerto in F is “often called Gershwin’s ‘most classical’ composition. It premiered with Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on Dec. 3, 1925, with the composer as the soloist.”
Celebrated Chinese pianist Wynona Wang will be a guest soloist performing Concerto in F along with the DuPage Symphony Orchestra. Wang is an active performer in China, Europe, and the United States. She was selected as first-prize winner of the 2018 Concert Artists Guild International Competition, which is just the latest in a series of impressive first prize performances, along with the 2017 Wideman International Piano Competition in Louisiana. She was also awarded the 2019 “Charlotte White” Career Grant awarded by the Salon de Virtuosi in New York City.
Wang made her New York debut recital in Carnegie Weill Hall in the 2019-20 season. She has also performed in prestigious concert halls in North America including David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, Krannert Center, and Merkin Hall. Her 2021-22 season highlights include Merkin Hall, La Grua Arts Center, Kravis Center, Pinedale Performing Arts, the Whitney Center and Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts.
Internationally, Wang has been a featured soloist with the Academic Symphony Orchestra of the National Philharmonic Society of Ukraine, and the Romanian Mihail Jora Philharmonic Orchestra in Italy.
Born in Beijing, Wang began playing piano at age 4, and went on to study at both the Music Elementary and Secondary schools at the prestigious Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. In fall 2016, she was awarded a full scholarship for her Performer’s Diploma at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and she now lives in New York while pursuing her undergraduate degree at The Juilliard School as a student of Dr. Robert McDonald.
Besides presenting this wonderful program, DuPage Symphony will host the Downers Grove North high school jazz band for a fun lobby performance. There also will be a pre-concert lecture.
For tickets, go towww.dupagesymphony.org. Single tickets are also on sale through the box office (630) 778-1003 and through the North Central College box office (630) 637-SHOW.