It’s been four years since the much-ballyhooed centennial of George Gershwin’s birth, and these days not even the most conservative jazz purists or classical concertgoers question his status as an American original. But Gershwin’s legacy in the classical realm consists of half a dozen orchestral works, one opera, and a few pieces for solo piano–so a symphonic Gershwin tribute more or less has to feature Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris, or the Piano Concerto in F. In fact, the last two appear on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s all-Gershwin program this Sunday, along with the less ubiquitous Cuban Overture and a selection of songs from his Broadway shows. What distinguishes the CSO’s take on Gershwin is, of course, the orchestra itself–it’s light-years beyond the average ad hoc pops ensemble in both discipline and range. The soloist in the concerto is Christopher O’Riley, who may be familiar as the host of the radio program From the Top, a showcase for outstanding young classical musicians that’s broadcast here on WFMT. O’Riley takes to Gershwin like a fish to water: he’s the piano’s answer to Fred Astaire, elegant yet masculine, lyrical but not mawkish, and he knows how to bring out the music’s jaunty rhythms, jazzy urbanity, and uniquely American optimism. Under the leadership of visiting conductor David Alan Miller, an enthusiastic and thoughtful interpreter of American musicals, the CSO is sure to back up O’Riley with its usual verve–and it ought to bring that same energy to An American in Paris and Cuban Overture, a rumba-inflected piece, peppered with the sounds of maracas, bongos, guiros, and claves, that Gershwin wrote after a sojourn on the island. The pop songs will be performed by soprano Nicole Cabell, a member of the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists; considering the center’s recent emphasis on training for musical theater, she should be able to sing like a diva and act like a Broadway trouper. Sunday, July 21, 7 PM, Pavilion, Ravina Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J. Henry Fair.