A Violinist’s Loving Celebration of Gershwin

Sep 16, 2019

A wise quote from George Gershwin led violinist Haerim Elizabeth Lee to realize that her love of many genres could coexist in her career, and her next chapter is our CD of the Week.

Violinist Haerim Elizabeth Lee spent years refining her skills as a classical violinist, earning degrees from New England Conservatory and Rice University. All the while, she explored the world of music outside the traditional classical realm, deeply attracted to jazz and world music, and collaborating with dancers and visual artists. But she couldn’t see how she could design a career that included it all – until she got to the University of Michigan.

There, she stumbled on a class on the works of Ira and George Gershwin. One of George’s quotes hit home: “My people are American, my time is today. Music must repeat the thought and aspirations of the times.” It was an epiphany, she says, and she felt the constraints of being a classical musician slip away.

Now Haerim Elizabeth Lee has released My Time is Now: Inspirations from the Gershwins. It features pianist Alex Brown (who also studied here at New England Conservatory, in the jazz department), playing the Steinway Model A that resided with George Gershwin in his Manhattan apartment. The Gershwin family donated it to the University of Michigan in 2013, and this is the piano’s premiere recording.

There are new and old arrangements of Gershwin’s tunes, and contemporary pieces by American composers who write with a special, signature American sound.

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Fantasy for Solo Violin (track 6) moves from hymn to hyper-virtuosity, dancing from mood to mood with a unique and American feel. Michael Daugherty’s Viva for Solo Violin unleashes its gestures in a tour-de-force that he says was meant to “set the soul on fire.”

William Bolcom’s beloved "Graceful Ghost" rag is here, too, along with an homage to Gershwin by composer Patrick Harlin called "#TBT" (short for “throwback Thursday”). Violinist Lee digs into all of these pieces with an ear for spontaneity, working to channel Gershwin’s nostalgic voice. Alex Brown is in his element, leaving room for his natural improvising.

The album comes with fantastic liner notes which include photos from the University of Michigan’s Gershwin Initiative, based on a long-term partnership with the Gershwin family.

Watch a trailer for the album:

For more information and to purchase this album, visit Innova Music.