The hugely charismatic Leonard Bernstein was born in Massachusetts in 1918. He did more than anyone to raise the status of American music within the classical genre. Known for his film and stage scores including West Side Story, On the Town and On the Waterfront, later in his career he became one of the great orchestral conductors of the late 20th century.
Our programme opens with the energetic, vivacious overture to Bernstein’s comic operetta Candide, based on Voltaire’s 1759 satirical novella. The overture fizzes and sparkles, and it’s no surprise that it is one of the most popular concert openers with audiences around the world.
from Porgy and Bess - Rebecca Evans (soprano)
George Gershwin was born in Brooklyn in 1898 and died of a brain tumour in Los Angeles at the age of 38. He is one of the most innovative and influential American composers of the early 20th century.
Summertime is a beautiful lullaby from his opera Porgy and Bess, the story of doomed love in America’s deep south. The work, which infuses elements of jazz, Tin Pan Alley and African-American folk music, is today considered to be the greatest American opera ever written.
Summertime features at the beginning of the opera, and is Gershwin’s most recorded work, and one of the most ‘covered’ songs in recording history.
I Got Rhythm
- Rebecca Evans (soprano)
Perhaps most famously sung by Gene Kelly in the 1951 film An American in Paris, I Got Rhythm was originally written as a slow song for the 1928 musical Treasure Girl (though it was never used in the show). It first appeared in its more familiar, faster, version in the 1934 musical Girl Crazy, sung by Judy Garland.
The song’s innovative rhythm changes inspired many of the jazz greats including Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and altered the direction of jazz music forever.
Rhapsody in Blue
- Simon Trpeski (piano)
This ‘jazz piano concerto’ was originally scored for solo piano and jazz band. The work was premiered in New York in February 1924, performed by the famous Paul Whiteman Band with the composer as soloist. John Philip Sousa and Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov were among the audience at the premiere.
The work opens with one of the most famous clarinet ‘riffs’ in music. This was devised in rehearsals by the Paul Whiteman Band’s clarinetist who, it’s said, expanded on the conventional trill as originally written by Gershwin. The composer loved the improvised version, so it stayed in the score. Gershwin himself regarded the work as his “start in the field of more serious music”.
Join us on US Election Night to celebrate the vibrant, inventive work of American composers and lyricists, in aid of The Passage.
John Philip Sousa
The Stars and Stripes Forever
- John Philip Souza (arr. Raymond Yiu)
John Philip Souza composed the piece and Raymond Yiu has done a special arrangement for the concert, John Philip Sousa is known primarily for his American military marches. He spent his childhood in Washington DC during the American Civil War, and as a young teenager was a member of the US Marine Band. His most famous marches include The Liberty Bell, Semper Fidelis (the official march of the US Marine Corps), The Thunderer March and, most notably, The Stars and Stripes Forever.
In 1987, an act of Congress named The Stars and Stripes Forever as the National March of the United States.
The march also exists in a ‘showpiece’ version for solo organ. Raymond Yiu - whose dynamic arrangement of Purcell’s Fairest Isle made a great impact at last year’s A Night Under The Stars - is creating a special arrangement to be premiered at our concert by star organist James O’Donnell and the Orion Orchestra. Performed on the mighty Royal Festival Hall organ, this virtuosic ‘mini concerto’ will surely raise the roof.
Samuel Barber was born in Pennsylvania in 1910. In addition to his vocation as a composer, he worked to help musicians and promote music; he was President of the UNESCO International Music Council, where he sought to improve conditions facing musicians worldwide.
Barber originally composed the Adagio as part of a string quartet, though it is in its arrangement for string orchestra that it became one of the most popular pieces of 20th century classical music.
A reflective, deeply-felt work that resonates on a personal as well as a universal level, the Adagio was performed at the funeral of Albert Einstein and accompanied the announcements of the deaths of Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy. It was famously featured in the soundtrack to Oliver Stone’s anti-war film Platoon.
You’ll Never Walk Alone
New Yorker Richard Rodgers was one of the most prolific composers in the history of musical theatre. He is best known for his partnership with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein.
You’ll Never Walk Alone comes from their musical Carousel, which deals with young lives ‘gone wrong’ and eventual redemption. In 1999, Time magazine named Carousel the best musical of the 20th century.
You’ll Never Walk Alone is well known as the unofficial anthem of Liverpool Football Club, and has been sung as a song of support for many causes. The song was performed at the inauguration of President Obama in 2009.
Some Enchanted Evening
from South Pacific
Some Enchanted Evening features in the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical South Pacific. Set during WWII on a US navy base in the South Pacific, the musical explores issues around racial prejudice and mixed-race relationships.
Some Enchanted Evening has been described as the ‘single biggest hit to come out of any Rodgers & Hammerstein show.’ Sung by the show’s male lead, it features at the key point in the story when he realizes he has found the love of his life.
from West Side Story
Mambo is an extraordinarily energetic, Cuban-inspired dance from Bernstein’s reworking of Romeo and Juliet set in the New York slums of the 1950s. It is performed in the show as a competition between the two rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks.
Bernstein’s love of rhythm is evident in this dynamic Cuban-inspired number. Writing about the piece, the composer’s daughter Jamie has said: “I defy you to sit motionless in your chair when all those rhythms start cooking together”.
Aaron Copland was born in Brooklyn in 1900 and died in Sleepy Hollow in 1990. His music is considered to characterise the ‘sound’ of America, evoking the vast American landscape and pioneer lifestyle and spirit. A number of his works are based on American history and culture including ballet scores Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid and Rodeo.
The beautiful Shaker hymn Simple Gifts and quirky children’s ditty I Bought Me a Cat are part of a set of American song arrangements, which was commissioned from Copland by the great British composer Benjamin Britten. The set was premiered at the 1950 Aldeburgh Festival by tenor Peter Pears and Britten at the piano.
Join us on Tuesday 8 November - the day of the US Presidential Election - for an evening of entertainment at the iconic Royal Festival Hall on London's South Bank, in aid of homelessness charity The Passage.
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Appropriately, this year's concert features music by the leading American composers of the 20th century - including Gershwin, Barber and Bernstein - performed by a line up of top international performers.
There's music from Broadway too, in the form of hits from the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein. The concert concludes with an organ-and-orchestra arrangement of Stars and Stripes Forever, written especially for the event.
Tickets are available from as little as £12, with premium seats available for £60 - all include a souvenir programme.
The gala concert is bookended by two receptions. Before the concert, we'll welcome you at "Lenny's", our authentic pop-up American diner - all tips go to The Passage!
After the concert, we invite you to experience New York during the "Roaring Twenties", complete with Art Deco interiors, live jazz and a touch of Great Gatsby glamour. Tickets are priced at £30 and £70 respectively, the latter including champagne, bowl food and canapés.
So, whatever your political persuasion, we look forward to seeing you on Election Night to celebrate the Great American Dream, and to unite in support of an organisation that truly transforms people's lives.