A passionate initiative a half-decade in the making has been completed by adjunct associate professor of piano and acclaimed pianist Jeffrey Biegel and composer and conductor Peter Boyer as they salute George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” on its centennial (February 1924-2024) with a special piece titled, “Rhapsody in Red, White & Blue,” composed by Boyer.

Reaching beyond the United States, Biegel—an acclaimed composer himself—and Boyer recorded the piece with the world-renowned London Symphony Orchestra for the Naxos American Classics series. The label will release the recording on February 23, where it will be available on Apple Music, followed by Naxos and Amazon.

Brooklyn College associate professor and internationally renowned composer Jeffrey Biegel (on piano) performs "Rhapsody in Red, White & Blue" with the London Symphony Orchestra in 2023.

Brooklyn College associate professor and internationally renowned composer Jeffrey Biegel (on piano) performs “Rhapsody in Red, White & Blue” with the London Symphony Orchestra in 2023. (All photos by Benjamin Ealovega.)

Biegel has pursued the highly ambitious “Rhapsody National Initiative” since 2020, intending to perform Boyer’s new work with at least one orchestra in each of the 50 states. As of January 2024, this remarkable vision has been fulfilled, and Boyer’s new “Rhapsody” will be performed by orchestras in every state by the 2026–27 season, believed to be an unprecedented accomplishment for a new soloist-and-orchestra work by a composer.

Since 1999, Biegel has been a faculty member in the Conservatory of Music, which boasts a diverse repertoire spanning the continuum of musical styles by composers of all nationalities, races, and ethnic backgrounds. Biegel brings this vast wealth of repertoire to his students not for the sake of diversity in and of itself, but because the music and the composers bring forth a unique language representing their diverse lives through their music.

“The evolution of music includes our steadfast efforts to maintain and sustain the performances of standard repertoire, which had been new and became mainstream. We do this through performance and teaching the next generation,” Biegel said. “I find great joy in curating commissioning projects with living composers to ensure the expansion of the repertoire for piano and orchestra, and for piano, orchestra, and chorus. More than 25 years, more than 25 new works, and more than 100 orchestras have been part of these projects. It is a fabulous opportunity to speak with a composer to get direct feedback to establish standards in performances and recordings for future musicians to learn from.”

Recorded at AIR Studios Lyndhurst Hall, “Rhapsody in Red, White & Blue” features Boyer conducting the London Symphony Orchestra with Biegel as piano soloist. Simon Rhodes of Abbey Road Studios, known for his work on such projects as the first two Harry Potter film scores, the Avatar film scores, and hundreds of classical albums, was the producer and engineer. This is Boyer’s fourth release for the American Classics series, and his third with the London Symphony Orchestra as composer and conductor.

The commission of “Rhapsody in Red, White & Blue” was made possible through a generous consortium of sponsors. The Billy Rose Foundation was the lead sponsor of the commission and the exclusive sponsor of the recording.

Biegel’s career reflects an unprecedented journey as a pianist having created the most diverse commissioning projects: 2020 focused on composing “Waltzes of Hope” and “Three Reflections: JFK, RBG, and MLK” for solo piano, and piano and orchestra; 2021 saw the premiere of “Reflection of Justice: An Ode to Ruth Bader Ginsburg” with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s “Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg” for mezzo-soprano, piano, and orchestra, with mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves.

In 2022, Biegel premiered his own concerto, “Three Reflections: Freedom (JFK), Justice (RBG), Equality (MLK),” with the Space Coast Symphony Orchestra in Florida. In 2023, “Rhapsody in Red, White & Blue” premiered with the Utah Symphony. He plans to premiere Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Melissa Manchester’s “AWAKE! for Piano and Orchestra” in 2024–25 and will premiere a new piano concerto by Adolphus Hailstork with the Pacific Symphony.

What They’re Saying About “Red, White & Blue”

“When my uncle George Gershwin set out to compose a new musical work reflecting the diversity of New York City within a few short weeks, ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ was born and became a national musical tapestry of our country. Jeffrey Biegel has been one of its fondest advocates, having recorded two versions based on historical manuscripts. His love of my uncle’s music, of America, and of people, steered him to have a vision for a diverse America of the 21st century through music to further reflect our unity. He asked Peter Boyer to honor my uncle with a brand-new composition called ‘Rhapsody in Red, White & Blue.’ Peter’s music embraces the many fabrics of humanity in this new composition, honoring the American flag we respect and honor as a symbol of freedom. I encourage orchestras in every one of the 50 United States to take part in this celebration of the human spirit, the American spirit, and the soul of our history moving forward.”Marc George Gershwin, nephew of George Gershwin and son of Arthur Gershwin

“I can’t wait to witness this incredible collaboration celebrating 100 years of one of the world’s most treasured compositions, ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ with my dear friend Jeffrey Biegel at the piano. No one brings the essence of Gershwin and his genius more to our ears than “J-man,’ as I like to call him. He, like Gershwin’s music, is world-class! What a fantastic idea to commission the uber-talented Peter Boyer to help celebrate this milestone with his composition ‘Rhapsody in Red, White & Blue.’ Every orchestra in every state should embrace this powerful and magnificent endeavor with open arms. Congrats to all involved. I will be cheering from the sidelines!!!David Foster, composer, arranger, songwriter, pianist, recording artist, record producer, and music executive

“When Jeffrey sent his rendition of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ to me, I said, ‘Oscar [Gershwin] would be proud.’ His salute to George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody” centennial with Peter Boyer’s new “Rhapsody in Red, White & Blue” is a great tribute honoring George and Oscar, connecting all of us through the magic of music.Richard Lewis, actor, writer, and stand-up comedian, currently on Curb Your Enthusiasm