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Great Performances: Gershwin LA-style

The problem with listening and watching an orchestra play “An American in Paris” and “Rhapsody in Blue” is that one wishes to dance. If you’re similarly inspired when you hear Gershwin, roll up the carpets and turn up the volume: Friday, 6 January 2012, 9 p.m. on PBS (but check local listings) you can hear and watch Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel conduct and Herbie Hancock play piano.

Before he takes the stage, Hancock comments, “This is the first time as a professional musician that I’ll be playing a piece that’s essentially classical music with jazz overtones with a symphony orchestra, and what a symphony it is!”

This is American classical music written by an American. George Gershwin was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1898. His parents were Jewish immigrants originally from Odessa (Ukraine), who met and married in New York. George was the second of four children.

In 1924, with his older brother Ira, created “Fascinating Rhythm” and “Oh, Lady Be Good!” for a stage musical “Lady Be Good.”  It was the same year, the composed “Rhapsody in Blue.”

“An American in Paris” was written in 1928, inspired by Gershwin’s trip to Paris. It was the composition that inspired the 1951 MGM musical starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, the movie was a celebration of Paris although filmed in Los Angeles. With a book by Alan Jay Lerner (coming after his 1947 Broadway hit “Brigadoon” but before his 1957 “My Fair Lady”), “An American in Paris” was a celebration of dance and George and Ira (lyrics) Gershwin with songs such as “I’ve Got Rhythm, “‘S Wonderful” and “Our Love Is Here to Stay.”

The climax is the 16-minute ballet by Kelly and Caron. Hearing the music makes me want to dance but Ian doesn’t find himself similarly moved.

But there is no dancing in this LA Phil performance. You will become familiar with Dudamel’s softly accented English and his charming dimples when he smiles. He concurrently serves as the music director for the LA Phil (his third season) and for the Gothenburg Symphony orchestra and the Simon Bolivar Symphone Orchestra of Venezuela. Dudamel is a busy man, crossing over to three continents.

Herbie Hancock, Gustavo Dudamel and LA Phil celebrate Gershwin.

Hancock is known for jazz and is the Los Angeles Phil’s creative chair for jazz. He also is the chairman of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and is the founder of the International Committee of Artists for Peace. He was UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in July of this year.

Hancock plays Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and improvises on “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

“Herbie Hancock, Gustavo Dudame and the LA Phil Celebrate Gershwin” is directed by Enrique Sanchez Lansch who provides some candid backstage moments and some close ups of the orchestra. You’ll get to see the key players without having to pay for the best seats in the house at the Disney Concert Hall or contend with downtown Los Angeles traffic. And, if the music inspires you, you can dance while no one is watching.

“Herbie Hancock, Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil Celebrate Gershwin” is on Thirteen’s “Great Performances” on Friday, 6 January 2012 at 9 p.m. on PBS. Check local listings.