The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us

300 Plaza Centre One
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0072; fax (319) 384-0024

Release:Oct. 4, 2002


Click on photo for enlargement

The University of Iowa Symphony will present “The Music of George Gershwin,” the second concert of the inaugural Signature Series of subscription concerts, at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, in Hancher Auditorium.

The concert, under the direction of William LaRue Jones, will feature pianist Rene Lecuona of the UI music faculty in a performance of Gershwin’s ever popular “Rhapsody in Blue.” Other works on the program will be “Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture” and “An American in Paris”

George Gershwin was a unique musician whose creativity within the standard popular and jazz styles of the early 20th century has earned him a permanent place in American musical history. He showed a remarkable ability to achieve popular success, from the song “Swanee,” written in 1917 at the age of 19, through a string of Broadway hits, until his premature death in 1937.

But Gershwin aimed for, and ultimately achieved, far more than popular success. He studied composition with classically trained teachers, and he left behind a remarkable legacy that crosses genres and styles in a way that seems particularly American. He wrote popular songs that are counted among the best American classics, numerous Broadway shows in rapid succession, concert pieces that have entered the standard repertoire, and one work -- “Porgy and Bess” -- that many people consider the first authentic American opera.

Toward the end of 1923, Gershwin had discussed the possibilities for a “jazz concerto” for piano with the popular band leader Paul Whiteman. Early in 1924 he accepted a commission from Whiteman, and with the help of Whiteman’s arranger Ferde Grofe, he completed the “Rhapsody in Blue in less than six weeks. Gershwin played the solo part with the Whiteman Band on a concert listed as “An Experiment in Modern Music,” in Aeolian Hall in New York on Feb. 12, 1924. Most of the music on that concert is forgotten today, but the “Rhapsody in Blue” was an immediate hit.

The first prominent American piece to apply the jazz style to a classical from, “Rhapsody in Blue” was considered a milestone in Gershwin’s career. Following that success, Gershwin went on to write a series of orchestral works that incorporate jazz idioms, including the Piano Concerto in F, “An American in Paris” and the “Cuban Overture.”

In 1928 Gershwin made his fifth and final tour of Europe. During the trip he visited Paris to play both the “Rhapsody in Blue” and the European premiere of the Concerto in F. It was on that trip that he began composition of “An American in Paris,” which Gershwin described as the impressions of an American visitor in Paris “as he strolls about the city, listens to various street noises, and absorbs the French atmosphere.” His first concert piece written without a commission, “An American in Paris” was first performed in Carnegie Hall on Dec. 13, 1928.

In 1926 Gershwin had read the novel “Porgy” by DuBose Heyward, a native of Charleston, S.C., and immediately wrote to the author suggesting that they collaborate on a folk opera based on the story. Heyward was enthusiastic but it was not until 1934 that Gershwin had time to begin work on the project. That year George and his brother Ira joined Heyward in Charleston, where Heyward wrote the libretto, Ira and Heyward collaborated on the lyrics, and George wrote the music.

“Porgy and Bess” was premiered in Boston on Sept. 30, 1935, in a production that moved to Broadway a few days later. Since then it has been produced both as a Broadway show and an opera. It first achieved international recognition when a company of African-American singers toured with it to South American and Europe in 1955. Recently “Porgy and Bess” has been particularly successful in English and German opera houses.

In 1937, after the composer’s death, Pittsburgh Symphony conductor Fritz Reiner commissioned Robert Russell Bennett, who had scored many Gershwin shows, to write an orchestral suite. The resulting “Symphonic Picture of Porgy and Bess” was premiered by Reiner and Pittsburgh Symphony in 1943.

Lecuona maintains an active teaching and performing schedule at the UI School of Music, including frequent collaborations with her faculty colleagues. Since joining the faculty in1990 she has appeared in more than 65 on-campus concerts. She is featured on several CD recordings, including one with UI violinist Annette-Barbara Vogel and cellist Fulbert Slenczka of chamber music by Hans Gal, and she recorded many of the songs of Arthur Honegger with UI soprano Rachel Joselson.

Lecuona has given solo and chamber music recitals throughout the United States, South America and the Caribbean. She has appeared as concerto soloist with orchestras in New York and Iowa. As an Artistic Ambassador for the United States, she gave concerts and master classes in Argentina, Peru, Ecuador and Trinidad and Tobago. She has also performed solo recitals and given master classes at many universities in Brazil. She recently performed in the Goodman Hall at Lincoln Center with Joselson.

An advocate of 20th-century music, Lecuona has appeared as solo pianist and chamber musicians in concerts of the UI Center for New Music. Her 20th-century repertoire includes several premieres of new works. Martin Jenni, recently retired from the UI School of Music, has written two solo piano works for her.

A UI music alumnus, Jones joined the faculty of the School of Music in 1997 as director of the University Symphony and director of orchestral studies. Prior to joining the UI faculty, Jones was the founding music director/administrator of the internationally recognized Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.

Jones is a highly honored musician, having received the Twin Cities Mayors' Public Art Award, the American String Teachers Association Exceptional Leadership and Merit Award and the David W. Preuss Leadership Award. He has also been selected Musician of the Year by Sigma Alpha Iota , a music honorary society.

Jones has appeared as a guest conductor with the Minnesota Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Sinfonie Orchester AML-Luzern (Switzerland) and other orchestras around the world. He has conducted all-state and festival orchestras in 46 states and five Canadian provinces. He has been conductor-in-residence at the North Carolina School of the Arts and the University of Miami (Fla.).

General seating ticket prices for the concerts in the Signature Series are $7 for general admission ($5 for seniors and $3 for UI students and youth). Tickets are available from the Hancher Auditorium Box Office.

Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284.

People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. This number will be answered by box office personnel prepared to offer assistance with handicapped parking, wheelchair access and seating, hearing augmentation and other services. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Tickets may be ordered on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher’s website:< >.

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail: <>.

The School of Music is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For information on UI arts events, visit on the World Wide Web. You may visit the UI School of Music web site at To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact <>.