by Mike Telin
“George Gershwin was able to do things that nobody else could do,” pianist Richard Glazier said during a telephone conversation. “He was able to meld many different styles of music together, and that’s why all of the great composers that followed him adored him.” On Friday, April 29 at 8:00 pm in Severance Hall, Carl Topilow will lead the Cleveland POPS orchestra in An Evening of Gershwin. The program will include Rhapsody in Blue and the final movement from the Concerto in F.
Born in Indianapolis, Glazier began studying piano when he was 6 years old. After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Indiana University, he went on to earn a doctorate from the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1993.
An accomplished classical pianist, Glazier was destined to have a career dedicated to the music of the Gershwins and the American Songbook. After seeing the film Girl Crazy, scored by George & Ira Gershwin, the then nine-year old Glazier was so inspired by the music that he decided to write a fan letter to Ira Gershwin.
After three years of correspondence with the famed lyricist, Glazier was invited to meet Ira Gershwin at his home in Beverly Hills. During their visit, Ira asked the young pianist to play a Gershwin tune on the piano that once belonged to his brother George. “I have a photo of me standing next to Ira, who was wearing a gold sweater. I recently played a show in San Francisco and members of the Gershwin family were there. Right after I finished they brought a package onstage, and in it was the gold sweater.”
About Ira, Glazier said, “When he wrote his lyrics he never dreamed they’d be remembered. But that’s the kind of person he was, a very humble gentle human being. Ira was very different from George, who was gregarious, and the life of the party. Although they were two halves of a whole.”
The meeting with Ira Gershwin would change the course of Glazier’s career. “Back in the mid-1990s, I decided that I was going to take all of the discipline that I got from studying the classical masters and inject it into my interpretations of the American Songbook.”
In addition to the Rhapsody and the Concerto, Friday’s concert will also include a medley of Hugh Martin tunes from Meet Me in St. Louis. “Martin, who wrote ‘The Boy Next Door,’ ‘The Trolley Song,’ and ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,’ was a mentor and a very dear friend of mine, so I commissioned Brad Dechter to do an orchestration. I’ll also be playing Dechter’s arrangement of Body and Soul by Johnny Green, who was a friend of mine. I’ll introduce the pieces with personal stories like meeting Ira Gershwin when I was a child.”
For Glazier, the songs that Gershwin and his contemporaries wrote represent what is great about America. “These songs are the voices of the melting pot of the many cultures that came here in order to make a better life for their families. It’s uniquely American music.”
The pianist’s television special, From Broadway to Hollywood, will soon be airing on PBS. Watch Jeffrey Brown’s NewsHour interview with Richard Glazier from The Gershwin Room at the Library of Congress, where he was reunited with George Gershwin’s piano 35 years after he played it for Ira Gershwin during his visit to Beverly Hills.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com April 25, 2016.
Click here for a printable copy of this article