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Akron Symphony Orchestra spotlights American classical music masters at Rhapsody in Blue

UPublish story by Joanne Green

The Akron Symphony Orchestra continues the Classics Series with Rhapsody in Blue, featuring popular favorites by American classical music masters Bernstein, Barber and Gershwin. Led by Maestro Christopher Wilkins and featuring a piano solo by Levi Hammer, Rhapsody in Blue takes place at 8 pm on Saturday, October 13th at The University of Akron’s EJ Thomas Performing Arts Hall.

“George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is rightly considered a keystone of American music. Its marriage of popular and serious styles is by now part of the signature American sound,” said Maestro Wilkins. “Gershwin’s uncanny gift for combining unforgettable melodies and vibrant rhythms has made the work a modern icon. It will be a thrill for the audience to hear our own Levi Hammer perform it.”

Currently Assistant Conductor of the Akron Symphony Orchestra and Music Director for the Akron Youth Symphony, Levi Hammer is a conductor of remarkable range and versatility and is also known as a pianist of commanding technique with a keen sense of color and texture. Hammer most recently performed as a pianist with the New World Symphony and Mercury Baroque. A review of Hammer’s 2011 Gershwin performance by was labeled, “magnificent…gorgeous…flawless.” As a conductor, Hammer has worked with the Castleton Festival, Aspen Music Festival, Atlanta Symphony and Rice University Opera, among others. Hammer previously served as a Zander Conducting Fellow with Boston Philharmonic and was the recipient of the Ansbacher Conducting Fellowship where he shadowed the Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg Festival. He studied conducting, piano, composition and languages at the University Mozarteum Salzburg, Rice University and Arizona State University.

“I’m thrilled to solo with the Akron Symphony,” said Levi Hammer. “I’ve played the Rhapsody in Blue all my life, and it’s a real honor to rediscover it anew with Christopher Wilkins, a true doyen of American music.”

“It’s also been a blast to learn the quirky ‘I Got Rhythm’ Variations,” Hammer continued. “It forces my fingers to stay limber after so much baton-wielding.”

The Rhapsody in Blue concert program features popular favorites by some of America’s greatest composers. The concert will begin with Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide, followed by Samuel Barber’s first symphony and Bernstein’s West Side Story Symphonic Dances. After intermission, concertgoers will be treated to George Gershwin’s ‘I Got Rhythm’ Variations and the ever-popular Rhapsody in Blue. Hammer will perform on the new Steinway concert grand piano recently installed at EJ Thomas Hall by Tuesday Musical Association.

“The 20’s and 30’s were a Golden Age in American music,” said Maestro Wilkins. “It was an eclectic era that could inspire brilliant ‘classical’ works by Barber, as well as the immortal jazz-classical hybrids of Gershwin.”

“Like Gershwin, Bernstein was a formidable jazz pianist and master of American musical theater,” Maestro Wilkins continued. “But he also made music every day with the great orchestras of the world. His Symphonic Dances from West Side Story is an unrivaled masterpiece of American orchestral music. This will be a concert for all to enjoy.”

Tickets for Rhapsody in Blue are on sale now and range from $22-$52 each with discounts available for students, seniors and groups of 10 or more. Prorated season ticket packages are also still available. New season ticket buyers can get Classics Series and Pops Series packages for 50% off. Call 330-535-8131 or visit to order tickets or for a complete concert calendar and additional program details.

The Akron Symphony appreciates its sponsors, including media partners 89.7FM WKSU and Akron Life, and the Ohio Arts Council, which helps fund Akron Symphony concerts with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans.

Next Concert: The Music of ABBA featuring Arrival from Sweden and Christopher Wilkins conducting takes place on Thursday, October 25th at 7:30 pm at the historic Akron Civic Theatre. This is the first of the Akron Symphony’s Pops Series concerts. According to Maestro Wilkins, “It will be great fun! You’ll be dancing in the aisles to the music of ABBA, one of the most successful pop-rock groups ever when Arrival from Sweden performs smash hits like Dancing Queen, Mamma Mia, Take a Chance on Me, and other favorites alongside the Akron Symphony.”

About the Akron Symphony Orchestra

For more than 60 years, the Akron Symphony Orchestra has been a driving musical force throughout the Greater Akron area. Widely recognized for musical excellence and performance versatility, the Akron Symphony Orchestra is committed to enhancing the quality of life of our community through educational and musical excellence. The Akron Symphony Orchestra is operated by the Greater Akron Musical Association, Inc. (GAMA). GAMA’s vision is to be embraced and sustained as a community treasure that provides a welcoming environment for all people to experience great music. This vision is realized by operating the Akron Symphony Orchestra, Akron Youth Orchestras, Akron Symphony Chorus, and numerous special outreach and educational programs.

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