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Work of the Week – George Gershwin: Girl Crazy

On 16 July, the Festival Napa Valley presents Embraceable You and I Got Rhythm from George Gershwin’s musical Girl Crazy with Kathleen Battle, Joel Revzen conducting Festival Orchestra NAPA.

Based on the libretto by Guy Bolton und John McGowan, Girl Crazy tells the story of Danny Churchill, an entertainer from New York who falls for the woman of his dreams, a postwoman named Molly Gray, after his father sends him to a ranch in Arizona. Nonetheless Danny longs for a sinful life, and turns the ranch into a night club and casino. Despite the ensuing chaos of conspiracies, robbery and pursuits, Molly and Danny manage to find their way back to each other.

George Gershwin’s Girl Crazy – a musical with jazz standards

Embraceable You was written in 1928 and was originally meant for the unpublished operetta, East is West. Two years later, Gershwin used the song as a romantic serenade in Girl Crazy. I Got Rhythm was also composed earlier, developing out of a slow instrumental piece from Gershwin’s previous work Treasure Girl (1928). The songs are now some of the most popular jazz standards, which shot singers like Ginger Rogers and Ethel Merman (who played the role of Kate Fothergill, a singer in Danny’s night club) to stardom overnight.

It was the first time I’d met George Gershwin, and if I may say so without seeming sacrilegious, to me it was like meeting God. Imagine the great Gershwin sitting down and playing his songs for Ethel Agnes Zimmermann, of Astoria, Long Island. No wonder I was tongue-tied. When he played ‘I Got Rhythm’ he told me: ‘If there’s anything about this you don’t like, I’ll be happy to change it.’ There was nothing about that song I didn’t like. But that’s the kind of guy he was. I’ll never forget it. – Ethel Merman

I Got Rhythm can be heard again on 16 July by the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra in Louisiana. The work will also be featured in an arrangement by William C. Schoenfeld for piano and orchestra, I Got Rhythm Variations, at a gala performance by the Hamburg Ballet on 17 July.

Further performances of Gershwin’s works this month include Rhapsody in Blue on 11 July performed by Orchestre Philharmonique de Marseille and Faycaol Karoui. On 12, 13 and 15 July the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival presents performances of Rhapsody in Blue and Cuban Ouverture. The latter work will also be performed by the SWR Sinfonieorchester in Freiburg on 16 July and in Evian by the orchestra of Académie Musicale d’Evian conducted by Bruno Peterschmitt on the same day.