SFCM Orchestra Featured on Reimagined 'Rhapsody in Blue' Release
Recorded at SFCM and released under the alliance label PENTATONE, Lara Downes' 'Rhapsody in Blue' features dozens of SFCM students led by Edwin Outwater.
The music may be blue, but the orchestra was feeling anything but after recording a reimagined Rhapsody in Blue for the piece's 100th anniversary.
In addition to performing the reimagined rhapsody in concert in October (which was a sold-out success), the SFCM Orchestra did a special recording of the song in the days following the performance. That recording is now available through SFCM's alliance with record label PENTATONE.
"It was fulfilling to finish the recording session and feel a sense of completion with the project," said Hannah Wendorf, who played viola on the recording. "It was really interesting to me how different the new arrangement is from the original," Wendorf, who studies with Dimitri Murrath, added.
"The recording went very well," said student Kobe Lester, a percussionist studying with Jacob Nissly. "It was very interesting to see how many facets of the sound of timpani specifically are influenced by proximity, as the closer distance of the microphones requires a much drier sound," he added.
For violin player Diego De La Cruz Iwadare, working on the project gave a lot of creative satisfaction. "This arrangement shows, in an almost magical way, the diversity of today's world and the beauty that It can bring to our life, giving us a new version of the piece that will stay in my heart," he said. Iwadare works with Simon James at SFCM.
The three students were part of the 50-plus ensemble that worked on the recording project celebrating George Gershwin’s landmark American work Rhapsody In Blue. This project began after pianist Lara Downes visited SFCM and later asked composer Edmar Colón to update Gershwin’s portrait of the American melting pot in 1924 with the sounds of Afro-Caribbean music and other diverse modern styles. "It all came together so quickly," Downes, a graduate of SFCM's Pre-College program, said at the time. (Downes is also a Classical KDFC resident artist and host, which broadcasts from SFCM's Bowes Center.)
From there, it was decided that the SFCM Orchestra, under the direction of Music Director Edwin Outwater, would play this new arrangement with Colón for a concert and recording project. "The great energy and sense of adventure that our students have at SFCM really helped create the perfect atmosphere for recording this bold new work," Outwater said. Students recorded in the Caroline H. Hume concert hall in late October with GRAMMY-winning PENTATONE engineers behind the microphones. "Recording is a specific skill, which requires a special kind of concentration and endurance from the orchestra. I know our students will carry this experience with them into their future recording projects." Outwater added. SFCM students received course credit for participating in the project.
Outwater hopes students received not only an invaluable experience, but that the opportunity will repeat itself for future students at SFCM, "I like how beautifully this project came together as a result of the SFCM alliance, and with our great relationship with forward-thinking artists like Lara," Outwater said. "I like that SFCM is a place where new and creative projects can happen at the highest level, and that our students get to be a part of them."
"It was exciting to be a part of the arrangement by Edmar Colón that makes use of so many musical styles and different instrumentation to represent the melting pot of American culture," Lester said of his experience on the recording project.
For other students, it was an exciting opportunity to record a brand new-rendition of a beloved classic. "The new version took some daring risks, and contained a few musical styles that were new to many of us," said Wendorf. "The music was not easy, the setup was not easy, the recording was not easy, but we did it!" she added.
A sentiment echoed across the orchestra: "Without a doubt it was a great experience. Exhausting but incredible for sure," Iwadare added.
Learn more about SFCM's alliance with PENTATONE and others. Lara Downes' Rhapsody in Blue Reimagined is available on digital release February 2, 2024.