deconstructing gershwin

kevin cole

kevin cole

It was what they used to call a Kodak moment and it occurred just as pianist Kevin Cole headed into the home stretch of Rhapsody in Blue last night at the Downtown Arts Center. It’s a piece he has played hundreds of times, though seldom in the modestly deglamourized blueprint version that the Lexington Philharmonic utilized  – one that deemphasized strings to a mere quartet of violins without sacrificing the work’s inherent animation and warmth.

The Kodak moment? It came when Cole, who was recruited by the Philharmonic roughly 36 hours earlier as guest soloist for tonight’s Singletary Center concert after Awadagin Pratt bowed out due to a family emergency, broke into a broad, beaming smile. The look on Cole’s face told the whole story. Some 87 years on, Rhapsody in Blue remains golden.

This isn’t a review. Just a Kodak moment of my own, a snapshot of last night’s second installment in the Philharmonic’s Kicked Back Classics series.

As an example of community outreach, it was a simple triumph. There were no tuxes and ties, no hefty ticket prices (seats were $15), no distance between orchestra and audiences (Cole was practically playing in the lap of some front row patrons as he soared through a warp-speed solo medley of 10 Gershwin classics) and best of all, zero attitude.

Maybe that’s because this was less a concert than a symposium. Philharmonic conductor and music director Scott Terrell spent the first half of the hour-long program deconstructing Rhapsody in Blue, tracing the piece back to its “big band with strings” beginnings using video clips of bandleader, entrepreneur and “P.T. Barnum-style” jazz forefather Paul Whiteman to illustrate the music’s genesis.

Cole similarly deflated any stigma surrounding the music – whether it stemmed from classical enthusiasts reaction to Rhapsody in Blue‘s abundant jazz inspirations or a jazzer’s reaction to confronting the classical camp. He also described the daunting task of performing Rhapsody in Blue as “an Olympic event.” But within the modest confines of the Downtown Arts Center, Gershwin’s most grand and poetic work last night possessed the intimacy of a party piece.

The main event comes tonight, when Cole, Terrell and the Philharmonic present Rhapsody in Blue at the Singletary Center for the Arts with the tuxes and the formality of a full concert setting. But hopefully it will also reflect some of the wonderful accessibility that resulted from an orchestra and audience sharing a neighborly hour together.

The Lexington Philharmonic with guest soloist Kevin Cole performs at 8 tonight at the Singletary Center for the Arts. Tickers are $25-$52. Call (859) 233-4226 or go to

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