Review: The New York Pops Honored Gershwin with A CENTURY OF RHAPSODY IN BLUE at Carnegie

The New York Pops and guest artist Montego Glover paid tribute to George Gershwin

By: Feb. 12, 2024
Review: The New York Pops Honored Gershwin with A CENTURY OF RHAPSODY IN BLUE at Carnegie

It’s hard to put words to the rapture of hearing George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” played in its entirety in the grand Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage at Carnegie Hall, but I will try. On Friday February 9, 2024, the New York Pops paid tribute to Gershwin’s music on the occasion of the near 100-year anniversary of “Rhapsody in Blue” (it officially hits 100 today, on February 12). JAZZ, LOVE, AND GERSHWIN: A CENTURY OF RHAPSODY IN BLUE was an utter delight. Guest artists Montego Glover, a singer and actor most recently seen as the Witch in Into the Woods (and, a friend informed me, a standout as Mabel in a site-specific production of Pirates of Penzance in 2001) and pianist Lee Musiker, accompanist to the late great Tony Bennett, are so talented. Put them together with the New York Pops, an immaculate 78-piece orchestra, and you're bound to have an unforgettable night.

The New York Pops is dedicated to playing popular American music and honoring its history. George and Ira Gershwin made their mark on the Great American Songbook with scads of standards including “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” and “I Got Rhythm,” both of which the Pops played with vocals by guest singer Montego Glover, who was absolutely stunning. Each of Glover’s songs used the original arrangements Nelson Riddle wrote for Ella Fitzgerald. Glover is a vocal powerhouse, with emotion writ large across her face as she knocked each song out of the park. One of the most touching moments of the evening came when she sang the bittersweet “The Man I Love” accompanied only by guest artist Lee Musiker on the piano, the pared down arrangements allowing the audience to focus more deeply on each of their talents.

After the song, the pair exited the stage and the Pops closed out Act I by playing Gershwin’s “Cuban Overture,” a rousing instrumental piece with Latin-inspired beats and some really interesting work in the percussion sections. Steven Reineke, music director and conductor, noted that George always wanted to be seen as more than just a Tin Pan Alley songwriter, and the “Cuban Overture” was one of his forays into “serious” music.

The New York Pops. Photo credit: Richard Termine
The New York Pops. Photo credit: Richard Termine

All of Gershwin’s music is a treasure. However, there’s no denying that “Rhapsody in Blue” is his masterpiece, a moving piece that manages to convey the hustle and bustle of 1920s New York City life without a single lyric. Lee Musiker improvised on the piano interludes, the way it was intended to be played, making it a true living, breathing jazz piece and not just a museum artefact. The audience was transfixed on the music, hearing Gershwin’s song in a way it has literally never been heard before and never will be again. As soon as the song finished, it earned a standing ovation. They earned another standing ovation with their final song, “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess, with Glover’s silky smooth vocals making the lyrics soar and perfectly embodying the song’s complex feelings. The Pops graciously performed an encore song after some begging from the crowd, closing with the bittersweet “Love Is Here to Stay,” Gershwin’s final composition before his untimely death at age 38.

Montego Glover, conductor Steven Reineke and The New York Pops. Photo credit: Richard Termine
Montego Glover, conductor Steven Reineke and The New York Pops. Photo credit: Richard Termine

The New York Pops will be back next month with Hitsville: Celebrating Motown on Friday, March 15, 2024 featuring Bryan Terrell Clark and Valisia LeKae. If you want to support New York Pops, including their mission to provide free tickets to children in New York City public schools, visit their website

You can find more great shows to see on the Carnegie Hall website HERE




Videos