Deer Valley Festival wraps with blanket of Gershwin
August 5, 2016
The 2016 Deer Valley Music Festival will close with a taste of the Big Apple, "A Gershwin Celebration featuring Michael Feinstein" on Aug. 9.
The Grammy Award-winning pianist promised a night full of music, stories and fun.
"For people who might not have seen me in concert, this is a fun show that is very interactive with the audience," Feinstein told The Park Record during a phone call from Los Angeles. "It has a lot of humor in it. It's filled with anecdotes and the music runs the gamut from beautiful ballads performed with the lush string section of the Utah Symphony to swing numbers."
Furthermore, the music and tales Feinstein will play and spin aren't built on rumors and innuendo. They come from the source, as written in his 2012 memoir, "The Gershwins and Me."
"Certainly the Gershwins do not need me to survive, but I'm lucky to have a unique perspective of their work, having been associated with one of the creators of the songs — Ira Gershwin," Feinstein said. "It's always a thrill for me to perform the songs, because I know that there will be some people in the audience who might not have heard them before, and I feel a sense of excitement and responsibility to help pass along the Gershwin legacy.
"I try to present the music in a way that honors their vision, but also keeps it contemporary and brings out the aspects of these works that have made them timeless and appeal to audiences," he said. "That involves different styles of performance and recognizing that many of these songs were mainly written in the '20s and '30s, and therefore have been affected musically by the styles that have come after. So, it's fun to pick and choose how to present these songs and still stay true to the core."
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For many people, the core of George and Ira Gershwin's music contains a sound that has been connected with New York. However, Feinstein said there is so much more about the music than meets the ear.
"For me, it always evokes a feeling of the divine, because knowing what I do about George Gerswhin, it's remarkable that through his physical body and soul that this music was channeled," Feinstein said. "He knew it, and was at times amazed at his creations, as were others. He had no false modesty about that, because he knew that it was coming through him, sometimes so fast that he could hardly write them down."
Feinstein thinks about the genius found in every bar of music.
"The songs that are 32-bar creations, short works, are so thoroughly composed — each chord and each note — with such care that it was a level of creation that sent George Gershwin's contemporary, Richard Rodgers, into psychoanalysis," he said.
Feinstein takes care in selecting the songs to perform in concerts such as the one with the Utah Symphony.
"Through the years, I've collected a lot of different orchestrations of Gershwin works," he said. "Because this is a concert with the Utah Symphony, it's like for me being a kid in a candy store when I selected the orchestration that will be used, [because] this orchestra has a long history with the Gershwins, with [founder] Maurice Abravanel having been a friend of both George and Ira Gershwin."
Feinstein chose orchestrations that he felt will show off the orchestra.
"Many artists who do what we do, pops concerts with symphony orchestras, will sometimes present arrangements that are simplistic, but the arrangements I have are substantial, so I choose them according to the skill of the orchestra, which of course in this case is supreme," he said.
The selection process also takes the type of concert into account.
"This being an outdoor, more relaxed and celebratory concert will [feature] music that reflects that," he said.
Feinstein, who has performed other works with the Utah Symphony in the past, is looking forward to his return to Utah.
"Performing with the Utah Symphony is joyful," he said. "I met Maestro Abravanel years ago in New York and I think about that meeting [during the concerts].
"I [also] think of Ira, who was my mentor, and I think of the [Utah Symphony's] debut recording of a Gershwin work that Ira called 'Catfish Row,' which was Gershwin's own orchestral suite from 'Porgy and Bess,'" he said. "I think about how symphony orchestras, in spite of all the changes in the world, perpetuate a certain culture that is more essential now than it has ever been, certainly in any time of my life. So, I'm grateful, most of all, for the Utah Symphony to continue and thrive."
While the Gershwins have a large reserved place in Feinstein's heart, so does the Great American Songbook.
"Whatever it was that affected me as a 2- and 3-year-old is the same thing that affects me now," he said. "It's a visceral response to the beauty of the music. The lyrics came later and are now part of the attraction. It was the harmonic structure that drew me in.
"I think people make the mistake of playing their kids 'Barney,' the most simplistic, horrible music,'" he said with a laugh. "And that's absurd."
Throughout his career, Feinstein has worked with many show business luminaries, including Bette Midler, Liza Minelli and Dr. Maya Angelou.
Working with such artists has also influenced Feinstein with his own approach to music and performing.
"Just as we are affected by everything in life, collaborations always brings something that is unexpected," he said. "With each person with whom I interact, there is always something that is exchanged, even though it may be subconscious or under the radar.
"I learned from someone as skilled as Liza, who is one of the greatest performers that I have ever seen live," Feinstein said. "Liza said she was most influenced by Charles Aznavour, her father and, of course, her mother. So, everybody's influenced by everybody else and you find a way to make it all yours, but it's not a conscious process."
That process has led to Grammy Awards and Grammy nominations for Feinstein, and while he appreciates those accolades, the real reward of his career is uplifting people's lives through the gift of music.
"Music is healing," he said. "Music is an essential element of our time now, so it's a great responsibility for anyone in the arts to take it seriously and help people connect with their intuition and inner workings.
"That is so missing in our society today," Feinstein said. "We're losing that because we seem to be in a world where were educated that its technology versus art, as opposed to the combination of the two."
This is the reason why Feinstein founded the Great American Songbook Foundation nonprofit.
"It's to educate high school kids in the music and preserve the artifacts," he said. "We have a wonderful program for senior citizens that is designed for people with Alzheimer's and dementia. So, we're working both sides of the spectrum."
Feinstein can't wait to play that healing music for Deer Valley audiences.
"It's certainly a romantic show and a fun show, one with a lot of energy that captures that essence of Gershwin," he said. "I try to put the music in a context that gives it more weight, and this will be a very special night, I think."
The Utah Symphony | Utah Opera's Deer Valley Music Festival will conclude the 2016 season with "A Gershwin Celebration featuring Michael Feinstein" at Deer Valley's Snow Park Amphitheater on Tuesday, Aug. 9, at 7:30 p.m. The concert will be conducted by Rei Hotoda. Tickets range from $40 to $92 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.deervalleymusicfestival.org.
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