A self-professed jazz buff and Gershwin aficionado, French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet declares, “If you don’t swing, you don’t play the Concerto in F.”
The work, which he recorded for a Gershwin-themed disc with Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, showcases the composer in two worlds, classical and jazz. Thibaudet will join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under conductor Andrew Litton (replacing Lionel Bringuier), in a program of Ravel, Stravinsky and Gershwin, including the Concerto in F, on July 13 at the Ravinia Festival.
Written in 1925 at the height of the Jazz Age, the concerto was performed 11 years later by George Gershwin himself in his sole appearance at Ravinia. The composer once wrote of the piece: “The first movement employs the Charleston rhythm. It is quick and pulsating, representing the young enthusiastic spirit of American life. … The final movement reverts to the style of the first. It is an orgy of rhythms, starting violently and keeping to the same pace throughout.”
Thibaudet loves the concerto’s jazz roots and explains his affinity for jazz: “It’s just, for me, the relaxation of it. First of all, I just admire too many jazz artists, because they are great artists. I play a little bit just for my own pleasure but it’s mainly really music that relaxes me,” he said in an interview with the San Francisco Classical Voice. “When I listen to classical music, I listen with different ears. I don’t think the word ‘pleasure’ indicates — I think with [different] ears, I concentrate. I don’t get to relax. Jazz, for me, is my time where I can really be relaxed. … I listen to it in my car, at home, all the time.”