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Pianist Frances Gray to perform George Gershwin’s Concerto in F

by Anne Bergstrom

Frances Gray

The first concert of the PEI Symphony’s 2003-2004 season, on October 19, will feature Frances Gray performing George Gershwin’s Concerto in F. Gershwin is probably better known for his many songs, his opera Porgy and Bess, and his earlier piano piece with orchestra, Rhapsody in Blue. He is one of America’s most popular composers of mostly popular music.

This concerto is often found on recordings with Rhapsody in Blue. It was written soon after the Rhapsody and is longer and more ambitious. It was premiered in December 1925 at Carnegie Hall with Gershwin as soloist. The audience was immediately taken with it, but critics weren’t so sure. They doubted that a musician who had come up through Tin Pan Alley could have written in classical form and orchestrated it himself. However, Gershwin had studied these things in order to write the piece, and some consider it his finest work

The first movement, “Allegro,” opens with some booms from the timpani which lead into a Charleston rhythm, followed by a pentatonic theme. These are worked in variations, fragments and combinations with great skill. The second movement “Andante con moto” features two blues themes and this movement itself is a work of genius. The third movement, “Allegro agitato,” uses themes from the first and second movements in a rondo form with a driving rhythm.

Frances Gray performs extensively as chamber musician and piano soloist, and has been heard frequently on CBC and Radio-Canada broadcasts. She has performed throughout Canada, the US, and in Europe, and every year at PEI’s Indian River Festival. She has recorded two CDs of solo piano music: Poems for Piano (nominated for an East Coast Music Award) and most recently The Evocative Piano.

Dr. Gray is Professor of Music at UPEI. She received her Bachelor of Music from McGill University and her Master and Doctor of Music degrees from Indiana University, where she studied with Menahem Pressler. She is a member of the Symphony as pianist and keyboardist.

When she performed Rhapsody in Blue with the Symphony, Gray says she had “a wonderful time with it. Since then I have also taught the piece. I’m not a jazz musician, but I love jazz. It’s always uplifting to practice; it’s very high-spirited.” She has many recordings of both Gershwin pieces, since they are so often paired, and decided she would like to perform the concerto, which is a lot longer. This concerto is often programmed on pops concerts, but the PEISO has not done so. The piece is a lively blend of jazzy themes in a classical form.

Also programmed for this concert are Mirage by Canadian composer Stephen Chatman, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8.

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