The SUNY College of Optometry announced today, on the 125th anniversary of George Gershwin's birth, that they will host a special performance of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue February 12, 2024, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the work's premiere, on the same date in 1924. The piece for piano and jazz band was first performed in Aeolian Hall in the Aeolian Building in midtown Manhattan, where the SUNY College of Optometry is housed today.
Grammy-nominated jazz trumpeter Jens Lindemann will lead an ensemble of musicians in the 100th anniversary concert, which will also feature woks by Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, and other Jazz Age classics.
The Aeolian Building opened in 1912 as the home of the Aeolian Company, which manufactured musical instruments, most notably player pianos—self-playing pianos also known as reproducing pianos or pianolas. The Aeolian Building held a significance in Gershwin's career prior to the premiere of Rhapsody in Blue, as one of his first professional jobs was making piano rolls for the Aeolian Company's player pianos. The premiere of Rhapsody in Blue at the Aeolian Building reflects not only on the trajectory of Gershwin's career, but perhaps even on the music itself; The clarinet solo which opens the piece begins with a rising glissando and a chromatically embellished descent down the B-flat Aeolian scale.
Sometimes referred to as a "jazz concerto," Rhapsody in Blue was Gershwin's first major concert work. Commissioned by bandleader Paul Whiteman for his band, Rhapsody in Blue was an immediate success upon its premiere, and to this day remains one of Gershwin's most popular pieces, as well as one of the most iconic works of American concert music.
Although the original performance hall no longer exists, SUNY Optometry's 100th anniversary performance of Rhapsody in Blue will be held in the Schwarz Theater in the same building. The complete program and artists will be announced in the coming weeks, along with ticketing information.