Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Stars are coming out for festival’s Gershwin night

GEORGE Gershwin has always been a bit of a hero of mine.

GEORGE Gershwin has always been a bit of a hero of mine.

The first time I ever went to New York I was spirited off to that most incredible of venues, Radio City Music Hall, and that experience of seeing a performance of the great ‘Broadway Opera’ Porgy and Bess completely converted me.

This guy was the real deal. The tunes were brilliant and instantly memorable and the whole experience the kind of thing that just makes you go looking for more.

After that I just couldn’t get enough of his scores for his great Broadway musicals, his brilliant and mould-breaking scores for full symphony orchestra, and of course his brilliant brilliant songs that have been sung by everybody from movie stars, to opera stars to rock stars â?? Fascinating Rhythm, A Foggy day in London Town, Embraceable You, The Man I Love... songs that are as popular today as anything written in the last 100 years.

Scroll forward a few years and the clear message coming from Henley Festival audiences is that orchestral concerts are an unmissable element of our headline Floating Stage programme.

The sophisticated, beautifully crafted sound of a great symphony orchestra is something that makes our ridiculously beautiful and elegant location seem even more beautiful and elegant. Soaring string sounds, mellow brass and woodwind floating across the water on a calm summer’s evening... what a scenario. Put these two things together â?? amazing music and a thirst for that orchestral experience â?? and what do you end up with?

Who Got Rhythm?! â?? a very special orchestral gala event that presses pretty much every button on the What-the-perfect-Henley-Festival-concert-needs-ometer...

But here’s where luck also kicked in. One of the BBC Proms I attended last year was a sort of battle of the big bands featuring the music of Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

The guy who completely stole that show was the singer Gregory Porter, someone who had hit my radar but at the time knew very little about. As I say, he stole that show and since that point has pretty much been plastered all over the billboards nationally with dozens of other high profile projects.

Another artist who has suddenly been appearing everywhere â?? most recently on a BBC television documentary all about the life and music of Nina Simone â?? is Laura Mvula. A pop singer with a fantastic pedigree and another genuine ‘person of the moment’, she’s everywhere.

In both cases a quick conversation with their respective managements and it became clear that both were already involved in a Gershwin-centred project and â?? sh-boom... â?? they’d love to work with us on the Henley Festival concert.

Then add in two of the most charismatic and brilliant young classical musicians â?? trumpeter Alison Balsom and pianist Ji Liu â?? and a pair of ever-so-classy dancers from Ballet Black and you end up with the most almightily varied celebration of a composer we all love to hear.

And of course. I haven’t mentioned the Philharmonia Orchestra. Festival cognoscenti may well remember a couple of concerts in the recent past that have gone down in festival history as having been amongst the best ever.

If you’re among those you may well remember recent visits by Argentine operatic tenor José Cura and the Welsh powerhouse baritone, Bryn Terfel.

Well, both of those events were as magnificent as they were because of the support and backing of the Philharmonia. Truly one of Britain’s great orchestras.

And it’s the Philharmonia who will be sharing the stage with this cornucopia of solo talent. Probably the single starriest line-up for an equivalent event at the festival.

So if you’re still awaiting conversion to the Gershwin cause I’d have to recommend this one. Foot tapping, hummable, classy... I could go on... and on...

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