Ranging from intensely rhythmic piano solos to slow, broad,
and richly orchestrated sections, Rhapsody in Blue is a study
of contrasts in style, musical texture, and color.

October 3 2020


Acclaimed pianist
Awadagin Pratt
makes his Great Falls Symphony debut

A Musical Kaleidoscope
of America


A two-week holiday in Havana in 1932 was the inspiration for George Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, a symphonic tone poem rich with the instrumental color and technique of Caribbean rhythms and native percussion.


Eight years earlier, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was one of the first pieces of “serious” music to contain elements of jazz. Originally titled American Rhapsody, it was changed to incorporate the word “blue,” slang for music unafraid to show its more risqué side. It went on to become his most popular work and established Gershwin’s genius in blending vastly different styles in innovative ways.


Classical pianist Awadagin Pratt will perform the piano solos in the concerto. Pratt, who was the first African-American pianist to win the Naumburg International Piano Competition, has performed with major national orchestras.

Known as the “Dean of Afro-American Composers,” William Grant Still, Jr. composed nearly 200 works that include five symphonies, four ballets, nine operas, chamber music and choral works. His life was a series of “firsts”—first African American to conduct a major American symphony, first to have a symphony performed by a leading orchestra, first to have an opera performed by a major opera company and the first to have an opera performed on television. Serenade, with its bluesy touches, was originally written for the great cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, and later transformed by Still for a commission from Great Falls High School. It was first performed by the school’s band on May 7, 1958 under Paul Shull.

Best-known for his composition of Grand Canyon Suite, Ferde Grofé first established his reputation among jazz musicians when he arranged Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. In his 1942 arrangement, Grofé transformed Gershwin’s musical canvas with the colors and many of the creative touches for which it is known. Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite was first recorded by RCA Victor in 1945, with the NBC Symphony conducted by Arturo Toscanini at Carnegie Hall. In 1958, Walt Disney released a live-action, short-subject film using just the arrangement and shots of the Grand Canyon. Today’s visitors riding on the Disneyland Railroad will hear the third movement’s “On the Trail” playing as the train passes through the Grand Canyon section.