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July 21, 2024

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Nashville Symphony Opens Season with Béla Fleck

The banjo prodigy opened Nashville Symhpony's 2023-24 season with Gershwin’s "Rhapsody in Blue," part of a season-long 100th anniversary celebration of the iconic work.

Nashville Symphony opened its 2023-24 season on Saturday, September 9 the same way it did 17 years ago when the Schermerhorn Symphony Center first opened its doors in 2006 — with a jaw-dropping collaboration with banjo aficionado Béla Fleck. 

The one-night-only performance debuting a new reimagining of the American classic Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin did not disappoint. I knew Fleck would be recreating the traditional piano solo on the banjo, but I had no idea he’d be doing it note-for-note with such precision. I guess that’s what happens when a 16-time Grammy Award-winner and International Bluegrass Hall of Fame inductee begins working on an arrangement as a high school student (yes, he really did).

First off, it was wonderful to be back in the Schermerhorn, one of Nashville’s gems and a great venue to fully immerse yourself in the acoustics of a live concert. The All-American program opened with Adolphus Hailstork’s An American Port of Call, which effectively evoked the bustle, crowdedness and occasional risks of work in a large American port. After that, it was the banjo concerto The Impostor (a tribute to Earl Scruggs written by Fleck to play with the Nashville Symphony in 2011) before a short intermission.

After intermission. the performance kicked back off with Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring — a nod to the banjo’s roots before the grand finale of Rhapsody in Blue (the re-imagining of which is part of a season-long 100th anniversary celebration of the iconic work).

The main themes from Gershwin’s original echoed out of the unlikely instrument with attention-to-detail and an Appalachian flair. Though it was hard to take your eyes off of Fleck in all of his head-bobbing, foot-stomping and finger plucking-glory, conductor Giancarlo Guerrero leading the symphony’s accompaniment was just as exciting to see and hear. The deep, jazzy composition — symphonic novices would recognize from movies like The Great Gatsby (2013) made me want to put on my bowler hat and travel back to the Roaring ’20s.

NEW! Bach to Rock Kids Corner

Attention, parents! The symphony’s new kid-friendly concert feature lets children ages 4 and older participate in the evening at the Schermerhorn’s Curb Family Music Education Hall while their parents attend the concert. 

In addition to licensed childcare, Bach to Rock Nashville West provides engaging, concert-specific programming. For this concert, the curriculum explored the mechanics and history of the banjo and the background of Rhapsody in Blue and George Gershwin. Bach to Rock Kids Corner is $40 for each child and the opportunity is for concert ticketholders’ children only.

Upcoming Nashville Symphony Shows in October

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About the Author

Michael Aldrich

Michael Aldrich is Nashville Parent's Managing Editor and a Middle Tennessee arts writer. He and his wife, Alison, are the proud parents of 4-year-old Ezra and baby Norah.