Prodigious pianist brings Roaring Twenties to the 2020s
When Simon Tedeschi plays the nostalgic notes of Rhapsody in Blue, the virtuoso hears the story of his family in the Roaring Twenties.
Tedeschi, like the rhapsody's composer George Gershwin, comes from a Jewish family who fled Russian persecution during the early 20th century in search of a new world and better life.
The Australian piano maestro will weave both family histories when he performs at the Sydney Opera House on Friday.
"It's very meaningful now with the war in Ukraine because Gershwin's family were forced to flee Russia, like many Jews, and go to Ellis Island," he told AAP.
"In my family's case, they fled Poland but wanted to get further away from Europe and so ended up in Circular Quay."
Rhapsody in Blue contains a mishmash of sounds from New York City's neighbourhoods which Tedeschi says tells the stories of the huddled masses - of people like his grandmother.
"Coming from Poland, she had, in many ways, a dreadful life and her husband an even worse life," he said.
"I think the sound of the blues, but also a klezmer music which is neither happy nor sad but explores tragedy and happiness, is so applicable to people like her."
Rhapsody in Blue's soaring clarinet cadenza and epic brass measures paint a portrait of the bustling metropolis at the height of the Roaring Twenties.
As the pianist trickles fingers over the keys, listeners can't help but imagine boxy cars jostling down Broadway as newspaper boys yell, "Extra! Extra!"
"It's a piece of so many different sections and colours and textures and that's what makes it new and uniquely American," Tedeschi said.
Rhapsody in Blue has remained a mainstay of Tedeschi's repertoire for most of his career.
The 41-year-old picked up piano when he was five.
By nine he had made his Sydney Opera House debut and taken out the open age Mozart section of the Sydney Eisteddfod.
"The second place winner I recall, or at least I've been told, was 21. And he was disgusted," he said.
At 13, Tedeschi played a private performance for legendary Italian opera tenor Luciano Pavarotti.
It was that same year that he performed Gershwin's legendary work for the first time, and in the three decades since, he's never stopped.
"After all these years, it's different every time and I'm not bored of it."
"I'm a better pianist now, my hands are bigger, but I also have more of a historical and stylistic sense."
"Now, I'm trying to express Gershwin's intentions and step out of the way. I'm not trying to occlude his personality with my own."
Tedeschi will perform Rhapsody in Blue with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra from March 17-19.