Litton considers Gershwin a neighbor

Conductor grew up near home where composer lived when he wroteRhapsody

by Whitney Smith, Music Critic of the IndyStar

ISO guest conductor Andrew Litton will conduct Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2, and will lead Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" from the piano Thursday through Jan. 7 in Hilbert Circle Theatre.

Plenty of pianists young and old play George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, but that doesn't bother a veteran American conductor who has always felt close to the jazzy symphonic favorite.

"I'm a New York City boy who grew up a block and a half from where Gershwin was living when he wrote it," said Andrew Litton, who will conduct Rhapsody from the piano in concert with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra starting Thursday at Hilbert Circle Theatre.

"Gershwin has always been my man," Litton said. "I would love to have been alive in his heyday. Not that I want to experience the Great Depression, but to have been in that sort of atmosphere, when he was at the top of his game."

As things turned out, Litton, music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, was not born until 1959, more than 20 years after Gershwin's death. However, as pianist and conductor, Litton has spent his share of time getting to know Gershwin's memorable melodies and rhythmic genius. For one thing, he conducted the Covent Garden premiere of the opera Porgy and Bess in London in 1992. But considering that Rhapsody is in the repertoire of so many pianists, what could one more artist possibly have to say?

"I think about the way it was written, which was in a panic," Litton said. "He forgot about the commission of the piece completely. He had never written for orchestra before. At the first performance, he basically improvised the piano parts."

"Even though I play what has been handed down by the publisher and Gershwin himself, when he finally did write it down, I still try to think about how he played it to give it that element of jazz, surprise and improvisation. That's always been my approach to the piece."

Originally printed in the on January 1, 2006.
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