An Evening with Kirill Gerstein: Rhapsody in Blue

Gerstein returns to Berklee March 30 to perform "Rhapsody in Blue" and world premieres of compositions by Brad Mehldau and Chick Corea.

March 7, 2012

The 2012 Signature Music Series at Berklee wraps up an extraordinary season on Friday, March 30 with An Evening with Kirill Gerstein: Rhapsody in Blue. The Russian-born pianist will perform the world premiere of new works by Chick Corea and Brad Mehldau, commissioned by Gerstein as part of his 2010 Gilmore Artist Award. The jazz-inspired program also features the original 1924 jazz band version of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" with a 25-piece ensemble that includes faculty and an eight-piece student string section. Gary Burton, Anat Cohen, and Eugene Friesen are special guests. Produced by Gerstein and directed by professor Phil Wilson, An Evening with Kirill Gerstein: Rhapsody in Blue is being recorded for future release internationally on the Myrios Classics label.

An Evening with Kirill Gerstein: Rhapsody in Blue takes place Friday, March 30, 8:15 p.m. at the Berklee Performance Center (BPC), 136 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, MA. Tickets are $25/$20, $17.50, reserved seating. Purchase tickets at, call 617 747-2261, or visit the BPC Box Office. Become a member for exclusive offers on select Berklee events. The BPC is wheelchair accessible. Can't make it to the show? This event will stream live on Concert Window

The concert is both a homecoming for Gerstein and a return to his jazz roots. Born in Voronezh, in southwestern Russia, Gerstein studied jazz at an early age in addition to his classical training. Gary Burton, long associated with Berklee as a student, professor, and administrator, met the pianist and invited him to study at the college. At 14, Gerstein became the youngest student ever admitted to Berklee, where he played in Phil Wilson's Berklee Rainbow Band. For this concert, Grammy Award–winning vibraphonist Burton will join Gerstein for the world premiere of Chick Corea's The Visitors. The second world premiere is for solo piano by Brad Mehldau, titled Variations on a Melancholy Theme. "Both works are by great improvisers fixing and elaborating their thoughts through notation," says Gerstein.

During his years at Berklee, Gerstein continued to study classical piano, and he attended Boston University's summer program at Tanglewood. He eventually decided to focus on classical repertoire, and by the age of 20, he had earned bachelor's and master's degrees in classical piano at the Manhattan School of Music. Now an internationally recognized artist who performs regularly with the world's great orchestras, he continues to explore the intersections between classical music and jazz.

The program for this concert includes music that is often called "crossover" or "third stream," a term coined by Gunther Schuller in 1957. Gerstein sees the concert as presenting jazz and classical composers' "takes" on each other's worlds. "Classical and jazz music are often presented as opposites," says Gerstein. "I am interested in tracing and blurring the borders between these styles, as well as illuminating the similarities between the two."

Daniel R. Gustin, director of the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival, says of the commissions, "Not many pianists today could successfully champion such a wide-ranging and eclectic group of composers and their music, and be able to do so with such genuine passion and conviction."

In addition to the world premieres, Gerstein presents Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" in the original 1924 arrangement for jazz band as commissioned by bandleader Paul Whiteman. While audiences are familiar with the 1942 version for large orchestra, the 1924 arrangement is not often heard. "I always wanted to do 'Rhapsody in Blue' with jazz musicians playing the original band version of the piece," says Gerstein. "I can't wait to come back to my alma mater to play again with Gary Burton, who was my teacher, and collaborate with Anat Cohen, Berklee faculty and students." Alumna Cohen, clarinet soloist on "Rhapsody in Blue," will also perform arrangements from her recent recording "Noir" with Grammy Award–winning Berklee faculty cellist Eugene Friesen in the first half of the program.

The concert opens with performances of selected études by György Ligeti exploring African rhythms and jazz timings, interspersed with Earl Wild's transcriptions of Gershwin songs, where, according to Gerstein, "Rachmaninoff-like textures meet Gershwin's melodies." Gerstein and Burton will also perform Oscar Levant's "Blame It on My Youth." "Levant was a great friend of Gershwin's and his favorite performer of the Rhapsody," says Gerstein. "I learned that not only Gershwin, but also Levant, studied composition with Joseph Schillinger. Another student of Schillinger, Lawrence Berk, founded the Schillinger House in 1945. In 1954 the school was renamed Berklee. Thus there is a strong connection between Gershwin, Levant, and the origins of Berklee!"

Gerstein has performed "Rhapsody in Blue" with symphony orchestras around the world to great acclaim. The Wall Street Journal said of his Gilmore Festival performance, "The Gershwin was magnificent, with a sense of playfulness and stylistic flair seldom encountered." This will be the first time he will perform the work in its original version and with jazz musicians.


Ligeti: Étude No. 4, "Fanfares"

Gershwin (arr. Earl Wild): from Seven Virtuoso Études, No. 2, "Somebody Loves Me"

Ligeti: Étude No. 5, "Arc-en-ciel"

Gershwin (arr. Earl Wild): from Seven Virtuoso Études, No. 6, "I Got Rhythm"

"Noir" with Anat Cohen, clarinet, and Eugene Friesen, cello

Mehldau: Variations on a Melancholy Theme (premiere, Gilmore Artist commission)

Corea: The Visitors (duet with Gary Burton, premiere, Gilmore Artist commission)

Levant: "Blame It on My Youth" (with Gary Burton)

Gershwin: "Rhapsody in Blue" (original 1924 band version, with Anat Cohen, clarinet, and Berklee faculty and student ensemble)