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Program Notes: Rhapsody in Blue (January 21, 2024)

Updated: Jan 18


January 21, 2023

Leonard Slatkin, conductor

Aaron Diehl Trio, jazz trio

Paul Turok

A Joplin Overture

Mary Lou Williams

Selections from Zodiac Suite












Aaron Diehl Trio (Aaron Diehl, piano; David Wong, bass; Aaron Kimmel, drums)


John Alden Carpenter

Krazy Kat: A Jazz Pantomime

George Gershwin

Rhapsody in Blue

Orchestrated by Ferde Grofé

Jeffrey Siegel, piano


Program Notes

Paul Turok

A Joplin Overture

Paul Turok

Born 1929, New York City

Died 2012, New York City

Paul Turok’s A Joplin Overture, composed in 1973, is a vibrant orchestral tribute to Scott Joplin, the renowned ragtime composer. This piece is not just an orchestrated medley of Joplin’s most famous pieces; instead, a creative reimagining that aims to transport the listener to the era of ragtime through an orchestral lens. The overture carries the spirit and verve of an age that Joplin helped to define, all within the classical traditions of Turok’s symphonic arrangement. Additionally, the connection to St. Louis, a city indelibly linked to Joplin’s legacy, is palpable. It was in our vibrant city where Joplin solidified his status as the “King of Ragtime,” and it was here in his home, just a few blocks east of Powell Hall on Delmar Boulevard, that Joplin composed some of his most beloved works, including The Entertainer and March Majestic. In a way, A Joplin Overture is an homage to both the sounds and the streets of St. Louis that once resonated with Joplin’s groundbreaking and timeless contributions to ragtime.

Although A Joplin Overture is not well known and there aren’t many accessible recordings of the piece, the DNA of its musical composition will be familiar. It’s a blend of the classical overture form—with its overview of various themes and harmonies—and the lively, syncopated rhythms and harmonic textures of ragtime. Turok invites the orchestra to transform into a ragtime band, and instruments like the xylophone and glockenspiel add a whimsical charm reminiscent of Joplin’s playful and virtuosic piano.

A music critic as well as a composer, Turok had a knack for infusing his compositions with historical and cultural contexts. In A Joplin Overture, he celebrates Joplin’s music and in doing so acknowledges the rich musical heritage of St. Louis.

Justino Gordón-LeChevalié © 2023

First Performance: July 4, 1974, Leonard Slatkin conducting 

More recent SLSO Performance: May 22, 1977, Gerhardt Zimmermann conducting

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinet, bass clarinet, 2 bassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, harp, timpani, percussion, strings 

Approximate duration: 7 minutes

Mary Lou Williams

Selections from Zodiac Suite

Mary Lou Williams

Born 1910 Atlanta, Georgia

Died 1981 Durham, North Carolina

You might not have heard of Mary Lou Williams, but you’ll probably recognize her friends. This phenomenal jazz musician made band arrangements for Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington, performed with Dizzy Gillespie, gave lessons to Thelonious Monk, and was a confidante to Charlie Parker. “Perpetually contemporary,” as Ellington described her, she found fame in the swing era of the 1930s and 40s before nurturing bebop—always imaginative, always up to date.

In 1942, she embarked on an ambitious project that would become one of her most significant works: the Zodiac Suite. By this point, she was was hosting her own weekly radio show and was a regular performer at Barney Josephson’s Café Society, a club in Greenwich Village. It was Josephson who encouraged her to create something grand for her radio show.

Inspired by astrological signs, Williams composed each movement to honor friends born under that sign, integrating their personalities into the music. In her own commentary she writes of the “changeable, moody and impulsive” Aries (Billie Holiday); the “stubborn” quality of Taurus (both Duke Ellington and Bing Crosby); and the versatility, “doing two things at one time,” of Geminis like Benny Goodman and Paul Robeson. In this way, she found inspiration for twelve miniatures, each just a few minutes long but full of personality.

The creative process began where she was in her element: at the piano, improvising; she soon had a suite ready to record with a jazz trio. But her ambition took her further, and on New Year’s Eve 1945 at New York’s Town Hall, in an event produced by Josephson, she premiered a chamber orchestra version of the Zodiac Suite. This was her first foray into orchestral composition—inevitably there were technical issues and challenges, compounded by insufficient rehearsal, that left her disappointed, and this version was not performed again during her lifetime.

Williams then orchestrated three movements for full orchestra, assisted by her teacher and NBC arranger, Milt Orent—these were performed at Carnegie Hall in 1946. In 1957 she adapted three movements for performance with Dizzy Gillespie’s Orchestra. But ultimately the Zodiac

Suite—in all its versions—fell into neglect. The original trio recording wasn’t reissued until 1995, and only recently, in large part thanks to the advocacy of artists such as Aaron Diehl, has the chamber-orchestra version work been revived for concert performance.

Adapted from notes by Justino Gordón-LeChevalié © 2023

First Performance: December 31, 1945, at New York’s Town Hall, with Milt Orent conducting the chamber orchestra; three movements in a larger orchestration were performed by the 70-member Carnegie “Pop” Orchestra on June 6, 1946, conducted by Herman Neuman 

First SLSO Performance: This concert

Instrumentation: jazz trio (piano, bass and drums), flute, oboe, clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, strings

Approximate duration: 30 minutes

John Alden Carpenter

Krazy Kat: A Jazz Pantomime

John Alden Carpenter

Born 1876 Park Ridge, Illinois

Died 1951 Chicago, Illinois

John Alden Carpenter’s “jazz pantomime” ballet Krazy Kat, composed in 1922, is based on the George Herriman comic strip following the adventures of a lovesick feline Krazy Kat. The comic was renowned for its whimsical and surreal world, its imaginative storytelling, and its unique visual style; Carpenter’s music was equally innovative with its pioneering blend of classical forms and jazz rhythms and harmonies.

If you grew up on Looney Tunes, then the masterly soundtracks of the cartoons would have given you some of your first exposures to classical music. Carpenter’s Krazy Kat ballet—an “animation” for the stage—belongs to the same tradition, and the music shares many familiar gestures: the slide of a trombone for slapstick humor, or the jaunty sequences with strings and glockenspiel to accompany a character’s unique walk.

The ballet follows a scenario featuring Krazy Kat and his arch-enemy Ignatz Mouse. A grand ball provides the necessary pretext for dancing—waltzes, a fox-trot, a Spanish number—and for dressing up. Ignatz Mouse disguises himself as an ingratiating “Mysterious Stranger” bringing a bouquet of catnip, which causes Krazy Kat to lose himself in a frenzied “Kat-nip Blues.” The climax is a piece of violent slapstick worthy of Tom and Jerry.

Carpenter’s integration of jazz into a classical framework was groundbreaking, making this ballet score an important landmark in American music. It not only showcases Carpenter’s versatility, it reflects the growing acceptance of jazz as a serious art form during the early 20th century.

Carpenter studied with John Knowles Paine at Harvard and later with Edward Elgar before joining his father’s shipping-supply firm. His music rose in popularity during the 1920s as he became one of the early adopters of jazz rhythms in orchestral music, and in 1936 he dedicated himself fully to composition. His other works, including an impressionistic orchestral suite Adventures in a Perambulator, also exhibit his propensity for blending different musical styles and his inclination towards French Impressionistic influences.

Justino Gordón-LeChevalié © 2024

First Performance: January 20, 1922, New York Town Hall

First SLSO Performance: February 9, 1923, Frederick Fisher conducting

Most Recent SLSO performance: February 10, 1923, Frederick Fisher conducting

Instrumentation: flute, piccolo, oboe, 2 clarinets, soprano saxophone, bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, piano, strings

Approximate duration: 14 minutes

George Gershwin

Rhapsody in Blue

George Gershwin

Born 1898, Brooklyn, New York 

Died 1937, Los Angeles 

George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was startling in its day, and though it has become almost too familiar through its appropriation for commercial purposes we can and should still hear it as the innovative piece it is. Gershwin was just 25 years old when he composed this work, but already he had written a series of hit shows that had made him the toast of Broadway. His ambitions, however, extended beyond the footlights of the Great White Way. He always wanted to be taken seriously as a composer, and when Paul Whiteman, leader of a famous New York dance orchestra, decided to present a concert of what might today be described as “symphonic jazz,” Gershwin readily accepted an invitation to write a piece for the event.

The first performance of Rhapsody in Blue, in February 1924, proved a milestone in Gershwin’s meteoric rise to international fame. The audience, 32 which included such celebrated musicians as Serge Rachmaninoff, Leopold Stokowski, Ernest Bloch, and Fritz Kreisler, gave the work a tremendous ovation. Gershwin played it again at Carnegie Hall and in five other cities (including St. Louis) during the months that followed. Before long, the work was being performed across the country and overseas in a new arrangement for full symphony orchestra.

Rhapsody in Blue remains Gershwin’s most famous work. The opening measures, with their celebrated clarinet glissando into the bluesy principal theme, are instantly recognized even by listeners otherwise unfamiliar with his music. The pulsating main theme is hardly less well known. Of course, Gershwin had no idea of writing comfortably familiar music when he sat down to compose his Rhapsody. Rather, he intended something more exhilarating. “I tried to express our manner of living,” he later said of Rhapsody in Blue, “the tempo of our modern life with its speed and chaos and vitality.” Those qualities remain evident in this iconic composition even today.

Paul Schiavo © 2007

First Performance: February 12, 1924, in Manhattan, Paul Whiteman conducting, the composer 

at the piano 

First SLSO Performance: November 16, 1941, Oscar Levant conducting from the piano

Most Recent SLSO performance: December 31, 2021, Stéphane Denève conducting, Michelle Cann as soloist

Instrumentation: solo piano, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 3 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, 2 alto saxophones, tenor saxophone, banjo, strings 

Approximate duration: 16 minutes

Aaron Diehl

Aaron Diehl


Pianist Aaron Diehl, renowned for blending jazz with classical elements, has emerged as a notable figure on the global music scene. Celebrated for his melodic precision and harmonic sophistication, Diehl has collaborated with legends such as Wynton Marsalis and Philip Glass and has performed with prestigious orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, under conductors like Yannick Nézet-Séguin. In 2023, he was appointed Artistic Director of 92NY’s Jazz in July Festival, taking over from Bill Charlap.

Diehl’s playing, which channels the spirit of jazz greats like Ahmad Jamal and Art Tatum, has earned him headlining spots at the Monterey, Detroit, and Newport Jazz Festivals. His mentors include jazz icons John Lewis and Kenny Barron. His classical engagements are equally impressive, featuring performances at Carnegie Hall and collaborations with stars like Inon Barnatan. His compositions have been commissioned by the Monterey Jazz Festival, among others.

The 2023-24 season is packed for Diehl, with highlights including opening the New Jersey Symphony’s season and making his St. Louis Symphony Orchestra debut. As artist-in-residence at the 2024 Resonate Festival, Diehl will delve into the works of John Lewis and J.S. Bach. He also looks forward to premiering a piano concerto by Timo Andres with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, led by John Adams.

His recent ventures include performances with Bill Charlap and as Kaufman Music Center’s Artist-in-Residence, where he presented Sir Roland Hanna’s 24 Preludes. His recording of Mary Lou Williams’s Zodiac Suite with The Knights was released in September 2023 to critical acclaim. His discography on Mack Avenue Records includes The Vagabond and his debut, The Bespoke Man’s Narrative.

Diehl, a native of Columbus, Ohio, was first recognized at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington competition at 16. Following studies at Juilliard with Kenny Barron and Eric Reed, he was awarded the 2011 American Pianists Association’s Cole Porter Fellowship. He is also a certified pilot. Diehl has been a Steinway Artist since 2016, continuing a family legacy that began with his grandfather, Arthur Baskerville.

Jeffrey Siegel

Jeffrey Siegel


American pianist Jeffrey Siegel has graced the stages of the world’s foremost orchestras, such as the Berlin Philharmonic, London Symphony, and the New York Philharmonic. His performances have been under the batons of esteemed conductors like Claudio Abbado, Sir Georg Solti, and Leonard Slatkin. Beyond his dynamic playing, Siegel is also revered for his engaging Keyboard Conversations®, a unique concert-plus-commentary format that opens classical music to newcomers and provides deeper insights to aficionados.

Siegel’s Keyboard Conversations® are celebrated for their educational and entertaining style, demystifying classical music and the piano repertoire. These events, which culminate in a Q&A, resonate with audiences across major U.S. cities and London. His dedication to these series is reflected in their longevity, with the Scottsdale series reaching its forty-fifth year and the Chicago series its fifty-fifth in the 2023-2024 season.

Siegel’s discography includes recordings of Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach, highlighting his versatility across the classical canon. His Gershwin collection with the St. Louis Symphony, conducted by Leonard Slatkin, remains a bestseller. Siegel’s media presence extends to radio and television, with interviews and performances on U.S. classical music stations and the BBC. His Keyboard Conversations® program, “Piano Treasures,” has reached a national audience through PBS.

A Chicago native, Siegel’s musical foundation was laid by Rudolf Ganz, Rosina Lhévinne at The Juilliard School, and Ilona Kabos as a Fulbright Scholar in London. He resides in New York with his wife, continuing his lifelong commitment to both performance and music education.


Program Notes are sponsored by Washington University Physicians.


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