Rhapsody: Music that Moves


Mischa Santora with Boston Ballet Orchestra

Photo credit: Angela Sterling

With scores by composers from Gershwin to Tchaikovsky, Bellini to Debussy, find out how this music moves the stunning choreography of Rhapsody.

Kathleen Breen Combes and Roddy Doble rehearsing Arrais's ELA, Rhapsody in Blue

Photo credit: Brooke Trisolini

Rhapsody in Blue sheet music


Rhapsody is all about emotion—feelings of rapture, ecstasy, an extravagant expression of feeling. Or, it’s a piece of music without too much structure, likely with some improvisation. In all of these ways, the Rhapsody program lives up to its name. LISTEN to the Rhapsody playlist on Spotify as we explore the origin stories and unique collaborations that brought these pieces into being.


Rhapsody in Blue was the first major classical work by George Gershwin, who was known principally for his Broadway scores and contributions to the Great American Songbook. With songs including “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “I Got Rhythm,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” and “Summertime,” Gershwin knew how to write a memorable tune.

In 1924, Gershwin was invited to compose a concerto for solo piano and jazz band for an experimental classical-jazz concert. He composed the song on a train ride to Boston, later recalling, “It was on the train, with its steely rhythms, its rattle-ty bang…I suddenly heard, and even saw on paper…the complete construction of the rhapsody, from beginning to end… I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness.” With its iconic opening clarinet glissando and irresistible energy, it’s no surprise that nearly 100 years later Rhapsody in Blue remains one of the most popular American concert works.

For the world premiere of ELA, Rhapsody in BluePAULO ARRAIS balances the universality of this well-known score with the portrayal of a very personal story, inspired by the strength of the women who raised him. Using the thrilling topography of Gershwin’s score, which swings from intimate to bombastic and back again, Arrais propels a single female dancer (accompanied by a corps of men) down a path of discovery and self-actualization to an ultimate assertion of her own power.


GEORGE BALANCHINE fell for the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky the first time he danced The Sleeping Beauty at the tender age of 12. He would go on to create over a dozen ballets on Tchaikovsky’s music, including SerenadeMozartiana, and the “Diamond” movement of Jewels. For Alastair Macaulay, chief dance critic of The New York Times, the pairing elevates both disciplines: “To experience Tchaikovsky through Balanchine’s vision is to hear his music anew. I’d like to send all Tchaikovsky lovers to the ballets Balanchine made to his music…”

Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Major received its premiere at the New York Philharmonic in 1881. The soloist was Madeleine Schiller, a notable occurrence at a time when women were far from regulars on orchestral stages—in fact, it was 85 years before the first female member joined the orchestra.

Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 began its life as Ballet Imperial, a work that toured South America in 1941 with the American Ballet Caravan. It channeled the style of Marius Petipa and paid homage to the grandeur of Imperial Russia in its elaborate scenery and costumes. When it came time to revive the piece in New York in 1973, Balanchine thought the trappings of the original production seemed outmoded. The streamlining of the production allows the grand, romantic sweep of the concerto and the impressive scale of Balanchine’s choreographic vision to shine.

Misa Kuranaga, Ji Young Chae, Maria Baranova, and Ashley Ellis in Yakobson's Pas de Quatre

Photo Credit: Igor Burlak Photography


The musical selections that underpin the works by Leonid Yakobson in Rhapsody draw on a broad range of musical styles and adapt several familiar compositions into new formats for use in his ballets.

For his 1971 ballet, Pas de Quatre, Yakobson took inspiration from a lithograph depicting four famed Romantic-era ballerinas (Lucile Grahn, Carlotta Grisi, Fanny Cerrito, and Marie Taglioni) striking a delicate tableau. This was one of the only surviving artifacts of an acclaimed 1845 divertissement by Jules Perrot, on music by Cesare Pugni, which brought the leading female dancers of the day onto the stage together, playing up the competition between ballerinas that ruled the day. Yakobson’s interpretation favored cooperation over rivalry. He discarded the music of Pugni in favor of selections from Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma, the pinnacle of bel canto opera.

Yakobson’s clearest inspiration for Rodin is, of course, the sculpture that each miniature brings to life. Three of the miniatures (The Eternal SpringThe Kiss, and The Eternal Idol) were created in 1958, accompanied by well-known pieces by French composer Claude Debussy, two originally for solo piano, the other for voice and piano. For Rodin, they are arranged for orchestra, drawing additional shimmering colors out of the impressionistic scores.

The final miniature presented in this program is Minotaur and Nymph, a violent pas de deux that aptly takes its music from the expressionist opera Wozzeck by Alban Berg. A practitioner of 20th century avante-garde composition, Berg employed atonality (the abandonment of traditional musical keys) in his operas and other works. The stark contrast between the first three and final miniatures are elevated by Yakobson’s evocative musical choices.

Yakobson choreographed the seven-minute solo Vestris in 1969 for a young Mikhail Baryshnikov, for which the famed dancer won the gold medal at the First International Dance Competition in Moscow. The music by Russian composer Gennadi Banshchikov was likely created expressly for this piece. Opening with a late-Baroque flourish, Banshchikov’s score sets the scene for the homage to Auguste Vestris, the reigning danseur of mid-18th century Paris. In a series of very brief vignettes, the dancer’s dramatic characterizations are well-supported by the incredibly economical treatment of an impressive parade of distinct musical themes.