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SSO's "Roaring Twenties" Concert set to celebrate 100 years of Rhapsody In Blue (Feb. 10/2024)

Updated: Feb 8


by Scott Roos

symphony photos by Julie Isaac

Daniel Clarke Bouchard photo courtesy of Daniel Clarke Bouchard

The road to George Gershwin’s famed Rhapsody In Blue was by no means arduous. In fact, one could state emphatically that it was a natural extension of what was going musically in The United States, and by extension New York City, at the time it was first performed live in 1924. With jazzy, bluesy undertones stitched clearly into its framework, its embrace of melodies and chord structures seen as uniquely “American” had only perhaps been hinted previously with Dvorak’s 1893 “New World Symphony” masterpiece that had come and gone decades before. The Czech’s composition, however, was more of a pastoral attempt at capturing a country that was still very young. Dvorak's work displays a sturm and drang sense of wide open space in his take on America with Gershwin’s piece, by comparison, capturing the industrialization, urbanism, optimism, urgency and clarity of a country that had slowly but surely begun to find its cultural footing. 


Gershwin’s opus was originally commissioned by popular dance band leader Paul Whiteman for a concert he had entitled “An Experiment In Modern Music '' that took place in the afternoon on February 12th, 1924 at Aeolian Hall in Manhattan. Whiteman intended his show to be a series of selections meant to educate and entertain those in attendance when it came to the distinctly American sound that was pulsating through the streets of New York at the time. Many of the local arts and entertainment inteligencia, as a result of their own interest and curiosity no doubt, were in attendance including famed Russian born composer Igor Stravinsky who would have a foray of his own into the jazz/classical crossover idiom with perhaps his 1945 penned “Ebony Concerto” being the pinnacle. 


At any rate, however you want to look at it,  it’s safe to say now, looking back, that that first performance literally and metaphorically “struck a chord”. Gershwin was onto something with Rhapsody In Blue. To some, it ushered in the “jazz age” or at least was a very important part of the movement. It’s withstood the test of time and has become a very familiar and much beloved work by both classical and jazz music enthusiasts composed by one of The United States’ most beloved musical exports.


This Saturday, February 10th,  as part of their “Roaring 20’s” concert, the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra (SSO) will commemorate the centennial of Rhapsody In Blue with a performance that will feature Maestra Mélanie Léonard holding the baton and young lion Daniel Clarke Bouchard at the piano.  SSO principal clarinetist Margaret Wilson will be on hand to play the famed glissando that has become arguably just as synonymous with the piece as the piano playing itself has. 

Margaret Wilson (middles row second from left), principal clarinet of the SSO, is looking forward to playing the famed glissando that introduces "Rhapsody In Blue" (photo by Julie Isaac)

“(Playing the glissando) It's not something you do every day,” mused Wilson in a telephone conversation with NSMZ, “I sort of have to refresh that every time (I play Rhapsody In Blue) and make sure that it's really secure; that I can do it on call when required because it's a little bit tricky. But yeah I'm looking forward to doing it.”


Wilson, who has been with the SSO since the fall of 1977, is looking forward to playing the piece. Given the staggering amount of years she has played with the SSO, she has had the chance to play the work on a few different occasions and looks forward to the opportunity each time it comes her way. 


(Gershwin's music has) that sort of jazzy, Dixieland style of playing which I really love and don't get that much opportunity to do,” Wilson added.

Daniel Clarke Bouchard is set to entertain with his take on Rhapsody In Blue (photo courtesy Daniel Clarke Bouchard)

“It's one of those pieces that people know and can follow. It's such a great piece for anyone who might not be even a classical connoisseur,” pianist Daniel Clarke Bouchard told NSMZ, “It's a great piece because it's one of those pieces that even somebody who is not familiar with classical music can enjoy. So I think that’s the appeal of it and I'm really excited to share that experience.”


As a young pianist, Bouchard first came into the collective consciousness of the classical music world through an appearance on the Ellen Degeneres Show and in interviews with George Stroumboulopoulis to name a few. He considers Oliver Jones a mentor and close personal friend. He’s studied at Juilliard, played with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra… There’s honestly just so much to unpack when it comes to Bouchard’s burgeoning career with a good deal of “bucket list” experiences having already taken place whilst he was still in his teens. Now aged 24, with at least a decade in the limelight, this will be his first time performing with the SSO and it’s almost a given that he will NOT disappoint. He’s had a few other chances in the past to perform Gershwin’s famed Rhapsody and sees it as a “fun” piece and an opportunity to collaborate with a symphony orchestra which is something he loves doing.


“I love that (performing with a symphony) because it's 60 musicians and yourself just coming together, feeding off the energy and producing music that people can bring into their lives and maybe it's memorable enough that they will remember it beyond the night,” said Bouchard, “It's such a special experience and every time I perform with orchestra I've felt so lucky to be on the stage with them. That's really the beauty of it and I just want to be able to continue that and do that even more. It's my favourite type of music making.”


Alongside Rhapsody in Blue, the SSO will also be playing Gershwin’s symphonic tone poem An American In Paris and William Grant Still’s Symphony No. 1 (“Afro-American”). The concert will go down Saturday, February 10th at TCU Place at 7:30. Tickets are still available HERE. For those unable to attend in person, a streaming option will also be available via ConcertStream.tv


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