Program Notes

New York Philharmonic New Year's Eve: A Gershwin Celebration

Dec. 31 at 8:00 ET on PBS

Ever since our very first telecast in January 1976, when the New York Philharmonic played under the direction of Andre Previn and Van Cliburn was soloist in the Grieg Piano Concerto, it has been our pleasure several times each season to bring you concerts by the New York Philharmonic on Live From Lincoln Center. On December 31, 1984 our cameras and microphones were in Avery Fisher Hall to inaugurate what has since become a fruitful tradition: the Philharmonic's New Year's Eve Concert as a highlight of the PBS end-of-the-year schedule. That tradition will continue on Wednesday, December 31 with an all-Gershwin program to be conducted by Bramwell Tovey and with singers Dianne Reeves and Norm Lewis as soloists.

The music of George Gershwin and the New York Philharmonic share a long and distinguished career. His Piano Concerto was premiered in December 1925 by the New York Symphony (which later merged with the Philharmonic), with Gershwin himself at the piano. In the early 1930's all-Gershwin programs were highlights of the Philharmonic's Spring and Summer concerts in the City's Lewisohn Stadium, usually with Gershwin playing his “Rhapsody in Blue.” The Broadway stage was enriched by a seemingly endless series of superb Gershwin musicals, and he appeared many times on national radio broadcasts that originated in New York’s radio studios. Gershwin, a native New Yorker, reflects in much of his music the vitality and 24/7 energy of the city.

Conductor Bramwell Tovey made his debut with the New York Philharmonic in 2001. Three years later he was invited to return to the Philharmonic and become the conductor for a new Spring and Summertime series, “Summertime Classics.” Those concerts have since become treasured events on New York's musical calendar. Maestro Tovey, since September 2000, has been the much-admired Conductor and Music Director of Canada's Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. And in 2008 he was named Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Hollywood Bowl Concerts. This past summer he made his debut at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducting a much-admired concert performance of Leonard Bernstein's “Candide.”

I serve as Moderator for Tanglewood's Friday evening pre-concert Roundtable discussions, and the evening before the “Candide” performance Maestro Tovey was one of my guests. I seized the opportunity to ask him a question which had long puzzled me: “Maestro, are you related to the formidable British writer and musicologist, Sir Donald Francis Tovey?” Ever the performer, Maestro Tovey took his time replying. After a long, pregnant pause, he finally gave a four-word answer: “No, I am not.” I detected that he had been asked that question dozens, perhaps hundreds of times!

Singer Dianne Reeves comes from a musical family. Her father, a fine singer, died when she was two years old. Her mother played trumpet, a cousin was a keyboard player and record producer, and an uncle was a bass player in the Denver Symphony Orchestra. She herself knew at an early age that she wanted to be a singer “when she grew up.” The trumpeter Clark Terry became her mentor and between 1983 and 1986 she toured as a lead singer with Harry Belafonte. At the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City Dianne Reeves sang at the closing ceremony. As a recording artist she is a four-time Grammy Award winner for Best Jazz Vocal Performance. The music of Gershwin is in her bones.

For his part, baritone Norm Lewis has had a distinguished career as both a singer and actor. Since making his Broadway debut in 1993 in The Who's “Tommy,” he has been featured in “Miss Saigon,” “Chicago,” “Les Miserables” and in a number of starring roles in the New York Public Theater's summer season performances of Shakespeare in the Park. Lewis has played Porgy in Gershwin's “Porgy and Bess” on a variety of stages. For his portrayal in the 2012 American Repertory Theater production he was nominated for a Tony Award; as Outstanding Actor in a Musical by both the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle; and for Distinguished Performance by the Drama League.

The New York Philharmonic's all-Gershwin program on New Year's Eve will bring us the Cuban Overture, the concert suite that Gershwin himself drew up out of his music for “Porgy and Bess,” the rousing “Strike Up the Band” and a cornucopia of Gershwin songs from the great American Songbook.

So celebrate with us the exit of the year 2014 and the arrival of a better (we hope) 2015 with the New York Philharmonic, conductor Bramwell Tovey and celebrated singers Dianne Reeves and Norm Lewis---all on Live From Lincoln Center on Wednesday evening, December 31. As always I urge you to contact your local PBS station to get the exact day and time for the telecast in your local area.

Happy New Year!!

MARTIN BOOKSPAN