Rhapsody in Blue  for Two Guitars 
and Orchestra

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George Gershwin’s "Rhapsody in Blue" is one of the world’s best loved concertos. It never fails to excite, exhilarate, and fully satisfy an audience.  Tim Berens’ transcription of the Rhapsody in Blue for two guitars and orchestra brings a unique twist to this classic. 

In 1997, I began the long process of transcribing the piano solo part of Rhapsody in Blue to be performed on two guitars.  It took hundreds of hours over a couple of years to complete the transcription.  

When I finally approached Erich Kunzel about performing the piece with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, he actually laughed.....but he did agree to hear an audition.  I enlisted the help of Paul Patterson to play the other guitar part, and we practiced, practiced, practiced.  Halfway through our audition for the Maestro, he  suddenly stopped us with a shout of "You're hired!"

The premiere performance on November 10, 2002, went beautifully, and was greeted by an immediate, thunderous standing ovation from the audience.  

Performing "Rhapsody in Blue" with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra

Maestro Kunzel called the performance "innovative and exciting."  The Cincinnati Enquirer said "One could almost believe their hands were being guided by one brain."  And John Morris Russel said the performance was "imbued with an extraordinary level of virtuosity, flair and pizzazz."

Getting the Rhapsody in Blue to "sit" on guitar was a tricky process.  The piano part was split roughly by hand among the guitars -- the left hand goes to one guitar and the right hand goes to the other. Originally, I had set out to transcribe Rhapsody for one guitar, but it quickly became apparent that it simply would not work; too much great music would be left on the transcription room floor.

Great attention was paid to keeping Gershwin's original musical intent throughout the piece. Where there are passages that are simply impossible to play on the guitar (e.g. pianistic flourishes such as a 6 octave glissando) the part was rewritten to conform to Gershwin's harmonic content and melodic direction, but to make the part sit on the guitar well.  In other words, pianisms were translated into guitarisms.

The transcription, which works with the standard Grofe orchestration, sounds new, yet still comfortingly familiar.  The listeners are bathed in a warm, familiar feeling while they explore new territory,  like tasting a new flavor at your favorite ice cream parlor.

Future performances of the Rhapsody in Blue for Two Guitars and Orchestra are currently being scheduled.  These performances include both full orchestra and chamber ensemble settings.  If you are interested in scheduling a performance, please contact  Tim Berens.


To purchase a score and full set of parts for George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, visit Berens Pops Library.


© 2002 - 2021, Tim Berens
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