OT: Gershwin Project at UofM

Submitted by StephenRKass on February 20th, 2018 at 5:10 PM

So, in the Chicago Tribune today, I happened to read an article about something that is happening at Michigan's School of Music. Short version:  they are in a years long process of publishing an authoritative corpus on the works of George Gershwin.

LINK:  'Porgy and Bess' uncut:  Revelations on an American classic in Michigan

LINK:  A bold venture to restore Gershwin's music

(Note:  I subscribe to the Trib, so I don't know whether these links will work for you or not.)

Longer version: 

Nine years ago, a University of Michigan alumnus reached out to his alma mater with a proposal that stands to change our understanding of American music.
Todd Gershwin, great-nephew of brothers George and Ira Gershwin, “cold-called the school of music,” recalls Mark Clague, a professor at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.
“He said: The family is talking about how to curate the legacy of my uncles — we want to be able to get somebody to take on this project.”
To its lasting credit, the University of Michigan embraced the challenge from alumnus Todd Gershwin, establishing the Gershwin Initiative to begin work on The George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition. To date, “An American in Paris” has been completed and performed; “Rhapsody in Blue” is scheduled for publication in 2018; and a concert “test reading” of a performance edition of “Porgy and Bess” will take place took place at the school, in Ann Arbor, on Feb. 17, 2018.

This is fascinating to me. Gershwin has always been one of my favorite classical composers. Parts of "Rhapsody in Blue" were about as far as I got in piano.

Did any of you go to the reading / performance of Porgy and Bess? Are any of you working on the project? The article explains that the critics of the day almost uniformly savaged George Gershwin over his opera. They rejected the idea that a Jewish composer could "do opera." Even worse, in the minds of critics, the performers were black. Porgy and Bess was severely edited, shortened, and condensed.

Stuff like this makes me proud to be a Michigan grad. I'm sure someone here either performed in the orchestra, or is part of the project in some way. I'd love to hear more.



February 20th, 2018 at 5:21 PM ^

I'm a little uncomfortable about "Rhapsody in Blue" because I have opinions about how that should be performed that are far stronger than my level of musical skill and knowledge justify.

So I might might be compelled to be ignorant screaming fan guy when it comes out. And I don't want to be that guy.


February 20th, 2018 at 10:38 PM ^

Exactly what I said: I am NOT classically trained musician, and while I listen to quite a bit of classical music my all-to-intense opinions about different renditions of songs are probably misinformed. Yet when I hear a version of Rhapsody in Blue with too high of a tempo (as in a compilation I own) I find myself turning into "NAVARRE'S A BUM!" guy except with choice words for a conductor I wouldn't recognize if he introduced himself to me on the street.

The point being that I look forward to hearing what is produced, but I'm nervous that I'll hate it. I'm not asserting any sort of "special expertise" or suggesting that there's some raging debate about the song in other circles.


February 20th, 2018 at 5:50 PM ^

I was there for the entire 4 hours (intermissions included) on Saturday night. The performance was spectacular. Between the cleaned up edition and having the orchestra on stage and not in a pit, the performance was a revelation. 

This is something that could only happen at a place like Michigan: alumni and family connections. The world's most authoritative Gershwin scholars. Fantastic student and faculty performers. A University Musical Society capable of bringing in brilliant soloists. A venue like Hill Auditorium. 

Who am I kidding? There are no places like Michigan. 

There was also - of course. This is Michigan. - an extensive symposium in the couple of days leading up to the performance, discussing Porgy & Bess in historical context and in relation to our current ...uh... environment. 

You can learn more here: http://smtd.umich.edu/ami/gershwin/


February 20th, 2018 at 9:15 PM ^

They are big Gershwin fans and musically quite knowledgeable. They absolutely loved it even though it ran much longer than they were prepared for. 

Living in A2 is great - even though I don't get to many (mostly free) performances from the school of music, it's a treat when I do go. My son is picking up a minor in music right now (aero engineer) so I get a little insight from him. The bottom line is that UM has a fantastic music school. Pity I didn't know that during my years as a student.

Last comment, if you ever have an opportunity to go to the annual collage concert at Hill Auditorium, GO!


February 21st, 2018 at 9:58 AM ^

This won't surprise many people reading this thread, but U of M does indeed have a terrific School of Music. My viewpoint is biased, since I earned my bachelor's in music performance there, but it really is one of tops in the country -- right at the same level in terms of talented students and accomplished alums as Julliard, Eastman, Curtis, or any other big-name conservatory you can think of.

If you're a student at UM or live in the Ann Arbor area, you're missing out if you don't get yourself to at least a few (free!) SoM performances a year. Most of the chamber/small-scale stuff is at the School's building on North Campus, which is out of the way, I realize, but all the big orchestra, concert band, and opera performances are on Central at Hill Auditorium or the Power Center. As PM mentions, the annual collage concert at Hill is a great chance to experience the whole variety of musical genres and ensembles at the School. The Halloween Concert is also a treat for the whole family (and one of my favorite memories as a performer), though I recall you do have to buy (fairly cheap) tickets for that one.

I'll also second all of the praise in this thread for the University Musical Society -- they manage to bring so many great performers to A2, the kind of stuff you'd think you'd only hear in a big city. (Which also benefits the School of Music, since many of these performers do masterclasses at the School during their stay in Ann Arbor.) The student tickets are a fantastic deal.

Having a world-class music school w/in the setting of a major university is a great thing, both for non-music students (who can hear lots of great performances for free) and the music students themselves, who can see how what they do fits into a bigger picture. And for those SoM students like me, who end up deciding that a career in music isn't in the cards, it's a great place to discover something else you'd like to do with your life. :-)


February 21st, 2018 at 11:14 PM ^

Will now add your greeting.

Mentioned in the article:

A premiere of the new performance edition at the Metropolitan Opera in New York is planned for the 2019-20 season, with the critical edition several years in the offing.

One of his Music School buddies plays contrabassoon at the Met. (Not that I know if there's a contra part in the score...)

scanner blue

February 20th, 2018 at 6:08 PM ^

presented Porgy and Bess on Saturday. It was a sold out show and I'm still singing " I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'" and "It Ain't Necessarily So". Morris Robinson was amazing as Porgy. I saw John U. Bacon talking with Mark Claque at intermission ... his next book about Gershwin?

Duke of Zhou

February 20th, 2018 at 5:58 PM ^

The concerts and plays that UMS put on were some of my favorite things about being a student at Michigan.  I was able to see a bunch of world-class performances for a very reasonable price with student tickets.  I still try to catch a performance or two every year.  I saw a pretty awesome play last year called "The Encounter."  I encourage current students to check the schedule and give something a shot that may be outside your comfort zone.  If you like music or theater, you will probably be glad you did.   

scanner blue

February 20th, 2018 at 6:22 PM ^

I started ushering for UMS as a freshman in 1978/9 and have never stopped- next year will be 40yrs. Leonard Bernstein, Itzhak Perlman , Ailvin Ailey Dance, Mos Def, Ravi Shankar, Dave Bruebeck, Tito Puente, Royal Shakespeare to name a few of my best memories. Plus throw in performing with the Choral Union for 18 of those years and ushering UM football, basketball, hockey, lacrosse and I barely have time for MGoBlogging.


February 20th, 2018 at 6:15 PM ^

I do enjoy RIB, notwithstanding the obvious grandiose Roaring 20's New York thing it has going on (it's like the New York Yankees of jazz-classical). When I was in my second tour at Michigan I began to go to events at Hill Auditorium and wish I had done so sooner.  

Captain Murphy

February 20th, 2018 at 6:16 PM ^

I took a class with Mark Clague while I was doing my master's in music at Michigan, and he was one of the best professors I ever had. Projects like this where they create critical editions of scores is always really interesting, especially when they're digging into lots of old sketches and manuscripts. There's a lot of personality and detail that can be found in those handwritten scores that doesn't always come out in machine-engraved music. I've had the good fortune to be able to seem some handwritten Gershwin manuscripts in person, and it's a really amazing experience.

I did some study of Porgy and Bess while I was in school, and it's a really interesting opera that is still somewhat controversial to this day. I've never heard the opera the whole way through, but I've always been a big fan of the Miles Davis/Gil Evans version of it. It was totally groundbreaking in the way that it featured an exclusively black cast, and incorporated jazz into a traditonally classical genre. However, there's still some debate in the musicology world about the extent to which Gershwin and Heyward, the libretist, were appropriating black culture in America, and how authentic their portrayal of that culture was. It has a fascinating if complicated history, and it's really a testament to the strength of the opera that it's stil widely performed and loved to this day.

East German Judge

February 20th, 2018 at 9:25 PM ^

....her answer smacks of "I'm too good to be in Ann Arbor".  So I guess no one else in the world recognizes her, only the plebians in Ann Arbor.  Everyone recognizes her only in Ann Arbor, who the hell does she think she is, Shakey Jake???

/RIP Brother!

Sweet Life

February 20th, 2018 at 6:44 PM ^

I was at the performance of Porgy and Bess on Saturday as well.  I'll echo previous comments - it was long (4 hours including two intermissions) but amazing.  The soloists, Porgy and Serena especially, were wonderful.  Morris Robinson's (Porgy) voice was phenomenal throughout and Karen Slack's solo for My Man's Gone Now was heartbreaking. Six Simultaneous Prayers, which apparently was removed in most previous versions, was a highlight.

For the OP and others who are really into Gershwin, the program notes provided by UMS are very thorough.  You can download them at: https://ums.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/0043-0344-porgy-and-bess-program-book-single-pgs-180208.pdf

You can also visit the UMS page about the show at: https://ums.org/performance/george-gershwins-porgy-and-bess/

Finally, I'll also put in a big plug for the University Musical Society, which has is one of the top presenters of music, dance, and drama in the country.  I can't say enough about some of the memorable performances I seen just this year, including the homegrown 139th annual performance of Messiah, two of three performances by the New York Philharmonic, recitals by Joshua Bell and Emmanuel Pahud, and an amazing one man play about depression called Every Brilliant Thing.  If you live in the area and have never been to a UMS event, you are missing one of the crown jewels of the University. 


February 20th, 2018 at 7:59 PM ^


Offensive Tackle Todd Gershwin (6-7, 265; Faber Prep; Chicago, Illinois) has been offered a preferred walk-on position at Michigan for the 2018 season. Gershwin is an unrated player who's considered a project.  He was injured during the summer of 2017, so he missed his senior season while he rehabbed in order to be ready for the basketball season. He previously accepted an offer to play basketball for Southern Illinois University, but has said that he has decided to be playing football at UofM.


February 20th, 2018 at 8:35 PM ^

Saw the DSO's performance of American in Paris last Friday.  Quicker and "pushed forward".  Liked my traditional version more.  Still fun to listen to a version as Gershwin heard it.


M Fanfare

February 20th, 2018 at 9:43 PM ^

George Gershwin owned three Steinway grand pianos in his life. One is at the Library of Congress. One is at the Songwriters Hall of Fame. And the third (the only one of the three that is playable) is in the Earl V. Moore Building at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance.