Friday, February 15, 2019

New York Times: A Pianist Swings Hard in Both Classical and Jazz

The pianist Aaron Diehl will be featured in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s mini-festival this weekend celebrating the Harlem Renaissance.
(Credit Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times)

The New York Times

By Seth Colter Walls
Feb. 15, 2019

At the Juilliard School, the pianist Aaron Diehl studied both classical and jazz traditions. And in the years since, he’s chosen to follow each of those paths — and sometimes both, simultaneously.

Mr. Diehl has played with Cécile McLorin Salvant and Wynton Marsalis. His own recordings as a bandleader have revealed him to be not only a stylish improviser, but also a composer worth watching.

In recent years, he has revived the practice of interpreting Gershwin’s concert music through an improvisatory filter. His imaginative yet idiomatic turn in the Concerto in F with the New York Philharmonic at their opening-night gala in 2016 contained the hardest-swinging note I’ve ever heard inside David Geffen Hall. (It was an interpolated low D that Mr. Diehl tossed off with casually elegant force toward the end of the first movement.)

This weekend, Mr. Diehl plays “Rhapsody in Blue” (on Saturday) and the less familiar “Second Rhapsody” (on Sunday) with the Los Angeles Philharmonic as part of the brief but potent series “William Grant Still and the Harlem Renaissance. 

“The challenge is creating this balance between the improvisation and the written score,” Mr. Diehl said of his approach to “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Gershwin, in a way, is the exception this weekend: The rest of the Philharmonic’s programming puts the spotlight on black composers. William Grant Still’s symphonies serve as anchors of the programs, the First on Saturday and the Fourth on Sunday.

Symphonic arrangements of works by Duke Ellington also appear all weekend, and a new piece — Adolphus Hailstork’s “Still Holding On” — will have its premiere on Sunday. (It’s one of the 50-plus commissions the orchestra has made as part of its centennial season.)

An earlier orchestral miniature by Mr. Hailstork, “Celebration,” was captured in the 1970s for Columbia Records’s Black Composers Series, a set which was recently remastered and reissued. That recording was the conductor Thomas Wilkins’s introduction to Mr. Hailstork’s music.
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