Tri-County Symphonic Band to play world premiere of ‘Blue Rhapsody’

Oct 11, 2023

MARION — According to Cape Cod-based composer Michael Donovan, the best career move a composer can usually make is to die. 

But Donovan is very much alive — his piece “Blue Rhapsody” will soon have its world premiere at Tabor Academy’s Fireman Performing Arts Center. 

“This [will be] the first time humans get to hear it,” he said.

Pianist Susan Saposnik  will play alongside the Tri-County Symphonic Band to bring “Blue Rhapsody” to life on Sunday, Oct. 22 as a part of the group’s opening concert “Blue October” which will feature the music of Donovan and composers Eric Whitacre and Frank Ticheli.

“It’s a thrill to not only have the composer there to help you with interpretation but to like what you’re doing,” said Saposnik. “That is such an affirmation for me.”

During a Tri-County Symphonic Band rehearsal on Tuesday, Oct. 10, Donovan, Saposnik, conductor Phil Sanborn and the band worked in tandem to refine the sound of the piece. 

Prior to this rehearsal, Donovan and Saposnik worked on tweaking the piano part. 

“When [Donovan] wrote it, we went over a few things that just weren’t playable for me,” she said. “I’m a classical player and this is a little out of my wheelhouse.”

She noted that Donovan’s use of some jazz chords and syncopated rhythms were a challenge.

“When you play classical music … for someone with my experience, your hands will just fall into it. When you see a chord, you know what it is,” said Saposnik. “He used jazz chords. Those are not comfortable for me.”

But Saposnik noted that it is her “job as a soloist to make [Donovan’s] vision come to reality.”

“Every time he hears it, he makes a correction somewhere,” she said. “And my job is to make that correction so the composer hears what is intended.”

Another piece of the puzzle is the conductor. 

Sanborn leads the Tri-County Symphonic Band as music director and conductor. 

“Some conductors go their whole life without ever doing a premier and taking a chance with a piece of music they don’t know,” said Donovan. “He’s a champion.”

Added Saposnik, “this particular piece [was] not easy for [Sanborn] to learn.” She noted that over time, Sanborn now knows “this score as well as [Donovan] knows it.”

The piece itself was inspired by George Gershwin’s 1924 piece “Rhapsody in Blue,” said Donovan.

“It should have the feel of America and American music,” said Saposnik. “It has the jazz in there [and] the gospel in there … the African American roots, the blues.”

Donovan hopes that audiences will be able to get past “the J-word — jazz,” and “really get into it.”

“This is American music in the 20th century style,” said Donovan. “It has new ideas but still the same style.”

“Blue Rhapsody” will be the fourth piece written by Donovan played by the Tri-County Symphonic Band. 

“A big piece of music like this is very difficult to get played,” he said “[The band] had to commit to this.”

For Donovan, who wrote “Blue Rhapsody” prior to the Covid-19 Pandemic and had to delay the performance, having the piece finally ready for the public is “a breath of fresh air.”

“It’s finally out there,” he said.

Hear “Blue Rhapsody” and more at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 22 at Tabor Academy’s Fireman Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Tickets can be purchased at the Symphony Music Shop in Dartmouth, at the Marion General Store, or online at