Switched On Pop | Rhapsody in Blue, Reimagined
A podcast breaking down the music of pop hits.
Switched On Pop
Published 22 March 2024
George Gershwin

Pop music surrounds us, but how often do we really listen to what we’re hearing? Switched on Pop is the podcast that pulls back the curtain on pop music. Each episode, join musicologist Nate Sloan and songwriter Charlie Harding as they reveal the secret formulas that make pop songs so infectious. By figuring out how pop hits work their magic, you’ll fall in love with songs you didn’t even know you liked.

What do Duke Ellington, United Airlines, and the K Pop group Red Velvet share in common? They've all covered George Gershwin's piano concerto, Rhapsody in Blue. First premiered in 1924, the piece became an immediate hit for the way it blended American jazz with the European symphonic tradition.

Gershwin had a number of successes as a composer in his day—his aria "Summertime" from the opera Porgy and Bess is by some measures the most covered song ever—but the staying power of the Rhapsody make it a rare instrumental piece that's instantly familiar. Maybe too familiar.

In 2024, there will be many centennial performances of this iconic piece, but pianist Lara Downes wanted to do something more than just the sound the notes of Gershwin's score for the umpteenth time. Downes commissioned Puerto Rican musician Edmar Colon to create a new version of Gershwin's composition, one that brought in the full spectrum of American life in 1924: fiery improvisation, Latin percussion, and dance rhythms. The resultant piece both pays tribute to an American icon while adding a new set of modern counterpoint.

Nate sat down with Lara to ask her if she was nervous to rewrite such a canonic piece, why a concerto is like a musical kaleidoscope, and the surprising family connection to Gershwin's musical world she discovered while researching Rhapsody in Blue.

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