The Hollywood Bowl was haven for both education and entertainment this mid-August as The Jose Iturbi Foundation sponsored yet another concert at the venerable old Amphitheatre featuring young, up-and-coming pianist and composer Aaron Diehl. Diehl made his first Bowl appearance in tribute to that of both George Gershwin and Duke Ellington on a night that was as humorous as it was honorary. Hosted and conducted by Grammy® and Juno Award winning composer Bramwell Tovey to masterful aplomb, the evening underscored modern American Classical music all the while exalting resident police officers and on-sight parking attendants to boot – car or otherwise! (But seriously, more on that later!)
And though the night ended there, that is not where it stopped! Yes, while you were all stuck in 101 freeway gridlock as a mattress flew off some poor tourist’s roof rack to catapult-strophic effect, watching the short scene from Xanadu play upon the Hollywood Museum’s cinematic retrospective screen without a single solitary thought in deference to George Gershwin (the man whose music you came to see—shame on you), or dodging your way past ambient, yet imaginary, George Gerswhin/Duke Ellington T-Shirt slingers in the Hollywood Tunnel, a few of us were getting schooled on the life and times of George Gershwin himself, to speak nothing of the man and the association making the evening possible: Jose Iturbi and The Jose Iturbi Foundation.
“Popularizing classic music – one note at a time” ® The Jose Iturbi Foundation not only sponsors blockbuster concerts highlighting internationally lauded artists, but that of young, up-and-coming musicians i.e. “young artists in the making”. Comprised primarily of classically trained pianists and singers, the Jose Iturbi Foundation facilitates musical debuts, assists in catapulting burgeoning careers, and underscores emerging musical talent via its very own international music competition featuring spirited performance engagements! To this day, via the International Music Competition, the Jose Iturbi Foundation has granted over $950,000.00 to promising pianists and singers all around the world!
Hosted by Iturbi’s goddaughter Donelle Dadigan (also president and founder of the Hollywood Museum) the pre-concert festivities commenced with drinks and canapés galore progressing to a lavish buffet dinner in the reception turret high above the left-hand side of the band shell. All was abuzz with most enthusiastic banter regarding the event itself and the man behind its sponsorship: Jose Iturbi.
“The Jose Iturbi Foundation and Donelle Dadigan are the perfect complement to an evening with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and The Hollywood Bowl… The foundation, which brings ‘classical music one note at a time’, to young audiences has such an impressive mission. It’s so important to engage young people as they do,” declared Oscar winning actor George Chakiris, best known for his role as Bernardo in the hit musical film Westside Story.
“Exposing our youth to culture broadens their horizons and instills a desire to learn more. Classical music is food for mind and body. The arts fill the soul. It’s an international form of communication. The Jose Iturbi Foundation is a gift that will help kids excel in every aspect of life,” magnanimously and enthusiastically observed Gilligan’s Island’s own Mary Ann, Dawn Wells.
“Iturbi was always interested in keeping the interest in classical music alive,” declared Dadigan. “During mid twentieth century, Iturbi was one of the most sought-after concert pianists and conductors in the world. He had the ability to make classical music and its melodies enjoyable to all. And of course, Iturbi enjoyed a good popular tune too…especially when he was performing with Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland and it seems that Jose Iturbi always had a link to Hollywood: Through his motion pictures, his Hollywood friends, his star on The Walk of Fame, [and] having performed here and at the Hollywood Bowl in sold out concerts more than a dozen times…”
Other stage, screen stars and Hollywood musicians in attendance: Alison Arngrim, Moosie Drier, Tippi Hedren, Carolyn Hennessy, Rosalyn Kind, Donna Mills, Erin Murphy, and Charles Fox: Hollywood musician and none other than composer of the theme song from the 70s ABC Series Wonder Woman!
“I just remember Jose Iturbi in Anchors Aweigh with Gene Kelly and…Frank Sinatra… They go and they find him at the Hollywood Bowl which happens to be where we are tonight and it’s…sort of a circular journey sitting here now. I can’t wait to hear some of the musical prodigies…we’ve got onstage tonight at this Gershwin extravaganza,” exclaimed General Hospital and True Blood star Carolyn Hennessy.
“I grew up in Reno with cowboys and rodeos and it was very different. There was no music in our house… My mother’s mother played the piano. My mother and I were living alone. She was a bookkeeper. She gave me piano lessons—hated every minute of it. I was supposed to practice an hour, I’d turn the clock up; by the end of the week the clock would be an hour and a half [over]. But now I have my piano. I said all my life I couldn’t do it… I don’t care if I’m any good, but now I want to do it at my age… I don’t mean I’m tone deaf, but they always kicked me out of choir. I really can’t carry a tune! And to do a musical…? It’d be like somebody who’s toe danced never dancing on toe shoes,” quipped Dawn wells regarding her own history in musical education.
“We’re very happy to be here at the Jose Iturbi Foundation concert to see music of Gershwin. I know it’s going to be a sensational night. I remember well Jose Iturbi and all his movies. He was a fantastic pianist and [had] a charm about him that didn’t quit and [he was quite the] conductor as well. He was wonderful and a great artist…we’ve been here before and delighted to be here again,” sang the praises of Charles Fox consummate Hollywood composer and writer of the best darned theme song in Television History, “Wonder Woman”!
While each Hollywood luminary had most valuable and heartfelt commentary, the evening would not be complete without the words of Donelle Dadigan which were not only entertaining and amusing but captivating beyond compare!
“Historically, medical reports show that playing a musical instrument certainly helps to develop the visual, physical, the aural, the hearing memory. And even if we don’t become professional musicians, this can be very helpful in our adult lives,” Dadigan commenced in a most rousing speech.
“So, let’s talk about some of our guests and their remembrances of their musical studies… This entertainer remembers studying diligently and practicing the accordion as a child. She says, ‘This is why I am so flat chested.’ So, Roslyn Kind joining us today and sharing this marvelously fun story with us!”
“And this award-winning actress started playing the violin in Jr. High. Her father could only take a couple of years of her practicing. This darling of Alfred Hitchcock [actress] remembers her father saying, ‘Maybe it would be better if you got interested in ice skating. It’s less noisy.’ — Miss Tippi Hedren!”
Of George Charkiris, Dadigan could only disclose the following: “Now you know we have an Academy Award Winning Actor with us here this evening and he learned to play piano as an adult. And he says, ‘I played piano but briefly and it was when I played Frederick Chopin with Rosemary Harris as George Sand Aurore Dupin. It was in the 1974 BBC Miniseries Notorious Women. I learned to play one of Chopin’s Etudes. I loved it. From personal experience, I can tell you this is very difficult to play any Chopin Etude. I had the sheet music,’ he said, ‘on an upright piano in the apartment. It was such an achievement to translate the sheet music to the keyboard!’”
“And this Emmy Award Winning Actress’ response was very succinct and to the point. When asked what musical instrument did she play, she thought about it and she said. ‘Nope. Not even the triangle.’ Donna, I loved your answer. Ladies and gentlemen, Donna Mills.”
Concerning the posthumous guests of the evening, in the form of godfather Iturbi and George Gershwin, Dadigan had this to say: “One of the many stories and I mean hundreds of stories that my godparents would tell about the first time they would meet entertainers and up-and-coming celebrities was when the Real Madrid Soccer team and its Junior League came to Los Angeles in the early 1960s, and Jose Iturbi opened his home in Hollywood for an afternoon of fun, sun games, and Paella and after consuming so much beer with all the team members, Iturbi took to the piano and played one popular Spanish song after the other, and as the athletes took their turns of belting out the words between peals of laughter, one voice rang clear. He was the good looking, — at least my godmother thought so – the goalie from the Real Madrid’s Junior Soccer League and Iturbi took this young man aside and told him, ‘You know, if you don’t make it playing soccer, I think you have a good shot at becoming a popular singer. But don’t wait too long.’ My godmother Marion Seabury was worried that his looks might fade. Well that good-looking soccer goalie with the smooth voice, is Julio Iglesias and he’s still good looking today!”
Of Iturbi’s relationship with Gerswhin, Dadigan fondly recounted the following: “Iturbi first met George Gershwin in New York City in the early 1930s during an early U.S. concert tour. In 1936 when George Gershwin moved to Hollywood to score several films, George and his brother Ira and Jose embarked on a great friendship. They had fun playing games, imitating great virtuosi of bygone eras as well as loving to imitate their Hollywood friends. The men had good senses of humor and enjoyed playing practical jokes especially on the ladies. 11 months later in 1937 George Gershwin died and untimely death. His memorial service was held here onstage at the Hollywood Bowl on July 11th. My Godfather spoke in his heavy Spanish accent along with friends of Gershwin including Fred Astaire, Oscar Levant, George Jessel, and Al Jolson… Iturbi closed the memorial service conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic while playing the piano solo of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. So, the relationship with Gershwin goes back, many, many decades. For more than four decades after George’s death, his brother Ira and Jose Iturbi would exchange knowing glances and laugh together each time the story was told how George’s parents saved and saved and in 1908, they bought a piano and paid for lessons for George’s older brother to learn to play the piano. But to their parents’ surprise and Ira’s relief it was George who demonstrated a natural talent and spent more time playing the piano than his older brother Ira. Today George Gershwin remains one of America’s most beloved and popular composers and musicians!”
But the evening’s magic and mastery did not stop there! Featuring tunes encompassing Gershwin’s Strike up the Band Overture, Duke Ellington’s The Handsome Policeman in deference to policefolk the city, county and country over, Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm highlighting the swift and agile, nay catlike, fingers of Aaron Diehl, Ellington’s Night Creature, culminating with An American in Paris, the night was a national celebration never to be forgotten – hosted by none other than a witty Brit! From overture to finale Bramwell Tovey was not only informative but amusing.
“George Gerswhin lived to be 37 years old, but wrote enough music for an 80-year-old lifetime,” Tovey disclosed, then added, “His great niece is here tonight!”
At the outset of The Handsome Policeman Tovey could not help but sing their praises all the while inviting two L.A. County police onstage along with two parking attendants i.e. in order to “pay homage to them: always outside listening.” In other coincidental and familial news, parking attendant “Alex’s father is also the Hollywood Bowl stage manager.”
At the conclusion of the piece Tovey allowed the police officers to lead him off as if in a degenerate stupor only to take a selfie with them once he had “come to” (and surprisingly, they let him!)—Aah acting!
At the outset of I Got Rhythm, both parking attendants, (Alex included emulating the family business just slightly) guided the piano into place via their very own parking glow sticks reminiscent of a couple of musically faciliatory air traffic controllers! (Now seriously, that’s a well managed stage!!!)
Once In the Rhythm Diehl’s fleet-footed fingers did the talking, singing and walking as they tickled the ivories in 2-4-16 time to thrilled applause!
“This evening has been called Gershwin Under the Stars or something like that,” declared Tovey while introducing Night Creature. Then referring to the so-called questionable nightclub as signified by the brief saxophone solo, “You don’t need a certain number…or flavor of degeneracy [here], just imagine a seedy nightclub you don’t go in where the saxophones play and grab the hand of someone you love—your husband ladies.” As to the taxi horns evident in roughly two seconds of the piece, “All the student loans that went into training [to play those taxi horns] at Julliard, but a pretty amazing effect nonetheless!”
All in all, just as beautiful and star studded and evening as it is star studded, whether by light, luminescence or song!
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