Renowned musician and creative impresario Hershey Felder comes to the U.S. from Florence, Italy, with his solo production of the life of George Gershwin – courtesy of the miracle of modern technology and live streaming. In over 6,000 performances, Hershey has creatively brought to life the stories of a host of musical greats, including Beethoven, Chopin, and Debussy. To quote American Theatre Magazine, “Hershey Felder is in a category all his own.” Since 2001, Hershey has also operated a full-service production company. In 2020, he created “Live from Florence,” a “theatre at home broadcast company” based in Florence, Italy. On Sunday, September 13, 2020, Hershey will perform GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE, an audience favorite about a true American musical icon. Even after 3,000 worldwide performances, GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE remains fresh and exciting.
For this is the story of the Brooklyn-born son of Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. Together with his brother Ira, he wrote hugely popular standard tunes like “Someone to Watch over Me” and “I Got Rhythm” and continued to author over 1,000 songs for stage and screen – while he managed to sandwich in the stunning opera, “Porgy and Bess.” And who can forget his piece de resistance, “A Rhapsody in Blue.” In a benefit for some of the theaters crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic, Hershey Felder reminds us that enormous talents like George Gershwin will always enchant and entertain us. Hershey took time from his busy schedule to interview in August 2020.
I SEE THAT YOUR FORAY INTO THE LIFE, TIMES, AND MUSIC OF COMPOSER GENIUS GEORGE GERSHWIN WILL BE PRESENTED FROM ITALY IN SEPTEMBER 2020. WHAT INITIALLY ATTRACTED YOU TO EXPLORE THE LIFE OF GERSHWIN? WHAT WERE SOME OF THE SURPRISES YOUR RESEARCH TURNED UP? WHAT WAS YOUR IMPRESSION OF HIS PERSONALITY AFTER YOU FINISHED STUDYING HIM?
HERSHEY FELDER: I was asked to play “A Rhapsody in Blue” in London when I was 19 years old. As someone who grew up behind a keyboard playing Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, etc. – I didn’t know much about Gershwin, not even “A Rhapsody in Blue.” It was then, when I first learned the piece, that I began to learn about the man. I always thought that understanding the context of the piece’s creation was very important. As for the rest…well, that’s the show!
IF GERSHWIN WERE ALIVE TODAY, WHAT DO YOU THINK HE WOULD THINK OF OUR CURRENT POP MUSIC? WHY?
HF: I think he would be fascinated. All signs lead us to believe that he was completely engrossed with the new and the different, and he was genuinely curious.
IF YOU HAD TO COMPARE GERSHWIN TO A COMPOSER WHO LIVED OVER 200 YEARS AGO, WHO DOES GERSHWIN REMIND YOU OF? WHY?
HF: Hard to say, as Gershwin is so original and very much a man of his time. This comparison is difficult for me, as the originals are wonderfully that, all original in their own way.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS GERSHWIN’S GREATEST CONTRIBUTION TO MUSIC? WHY?
HF: They say he “made a lady out of Jazz;” but, in these days, we have to revisit what this means. Did he appropriate Jazz from the Black community – but able to bring it to a much bigger public because he was white and Jewish, getting it to places where it might have not been able to go just on the sheer brilliance of it all in the first place? And, if that is the case, then how do we investigate artistic influences and what they lead to? That said, Gershwin’s greatest contribution is that he really did take in the sounds that were around him and crafted them into a very American vernacular. As he said, “I hear music in the heart of noise. My people are American, my time is today – and jazz is our beat.”
THE UPCOMING PRESENTATION IS A BENEFIT PERFORMANCE. WHAT DREW YOU TO DOING BENEFIT PERFORMANCES? HOW DID YOU SELECT THE RECIPIENTS? WILLYOU BE DOING MORE BENEFITS?
HF: The benefit mechanism will continue as long as it is viable. One never comes up in anything alone, and there were a lot of theaters that I had been involved with that suddenly were in need without shows bringing in income. I began with the theaters that I was engaged in, and the idea of it picked up from there. Then other theaters joined on. It felt like a responsibility, both to help theaters as much as I could, and also to make certain that my own staff did not have to suddenly find other jobs. The alternative was taking a few (much needed) years of a break and staying at home to practice and relax – and let everyone fend for themselves. That just didn’t seem right in any way.
GIVEN THE PANDEMIC, WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FUTURE PLANS? DO YOU THINK THAT YOU WILL EVER LEAVE ITALY? BTW, HOW IS YOUR DOG LEO?
HF: Leo is a joy. Will I ever leave Italy? Let’s just say, I hope the world heals so that I can welcome people here and be welcomed back in other parts of the world.
GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE live streams from Florence, Italy, at 5 p.m. (PDT) on Sunday, September 13, For information and tickets, go online.