Pianist Kevin Cole had just finished breakfast Wednesday at his home in Chicago when he got the call: The Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra's soloist for Friday's concert had a family emergency and could not perform. Could he play the show plus a pre-concert event Thursday?
"I was saying, 'Yes, but I really should get off the phone now and get in my car so I don't miss the rehearsal,'" Cole recalled, sitting in the Philharmonic offices 24 hours later.
Cole was to perform in Thursday's Kicked-Back Classics event and Friday's Classics Series concert, playing the original versions of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and I've Got Rhythm Variations that originally were to be performed by Awadagin Pratt.
Pratt rehearsed with the orchestra Tuesday night but left Lexington on Wednesday to be with his family, the Philharmonic said. The orchestra declined to describe the nature of the emergency.
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"When you're in an organization that constantly turns over programs, one always hopes that the schedule goes as planned but also learns to ... plan for the worst," Terrell said. "You always want to be prepared."
That means that although no understudy is contacted or put on retainer, Terrell has in the back of his mind people he could call for each program in case the original plans — usually set more than a year in advance — fall through.
"There are a few pianists who really know the piece inside and out and can probably get up at 4 in the morning and play it without thinking twice," Terrell said. "Then you have to ascertain their availability and can they get here and all of that. The list was quickly created, and Kevin was at the top of that list."
American music, Gershwin in particular, is Cole's speciality. He played for the Gersh win family when he was a teenager and was told his keyboard style was similar to the composer's. He says he has performed Rhapsody in Blue hundreds of times, but this week's concerts were to be the first time he has played it with the small "jazz orchestra" format for which the piece was composed in 1924 and played for most of its first two decades of existence.
It is an experience Cole relishes. He just had to get here.
Once Cole agreed to play, he hit the road just in time to be in Lexington for a rehearsal Wednesday night. He arrived road-weary after the 61/2-hour drive but says that once the practice started, "the orchestra picked me right up."
For his part, Terrell said, "after the first five minutes of the rehearsal, my blood pressure lowered considerably."
Though he planned for the worst-case scenario, and Plan B came together quickly and easily, changing soloists at the last minute adds a helping of stress to the concert week. But it is not unheard-of. In fact, the soloist for the February concert also was changed, though with six weeks' notice as opposed to two days'.
When situations such as this arise, Terrell said, preserving the program is a priority, particularly on performances like this week's, which were almost sold out.
Terrell and Cole think it's appropriate that Rhapsody is being performed under such tight, intense circumstances: The work was composed in a speedy three weeks in 1924.
Band leader Paul Whiteman announced in a January newspaper article that Gershwin was creating a piece for piano and jazz orchestra for a concert in early February — but he hadn't actually commissioned Gershwin to write it.
At the time of its premiere, the piano part, which Gershwin played himself, was not written down.
"You can feel that energy in the score," Cole said. "It feels like we have that same kind of energy in this performance."