Gershwin, Porter and Friends

By: California Pops Orchestra
Featuring: Frederick Hodges, piano; singers Carly Honfi and Matthew Hall
When: November 3, 2019
Where: San Mateo Performing Arts Center, 600 N Delaware St, San Mateo

Coming up

The Pops’ Family Christmas Special: 3 p.m., December 1, 2019
Magic of Broadway: 3 p.m., March 8, 2020
Miller, Goodman, Dorsey and More: 3 p.m., April 5, 2020
Pops Goes to the Movies: 3 p.m., May 31, 2020
Where: San Mateo Performing Arts Center, 600 N Delaware St, San Mateo
Tickets: $20-$55. Visit

Frederick Hodges
Sam Huie / California Pops Orchestra
Frederick Hodges was excellent as he performed George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" with the California Pops Orchestra on November 3, 2019, at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center.
California Pops Orchestra
offers magnificent 'Rhapsody in Blue'
Pianist Frederick Hodges joins crisp orchestra for excellent performance
November 25, 2019

I count myself lucky to have been in attendance on November 3 at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center when the California Pops Orchestra gave us an absolutely magnificent performance of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Joined by the excellent and accomplished Frederick Hodges at the piano, and under the baton of Maestro Kim Venaas, the Pops delivered a “Rhapsody in Blue” that was crisp and solid, and that also fully explored the beauty and the emotionalism of Gershwin’s 1924 composition.

I’ve never heard a better live performance of what Gershwin called “a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness.”

And yes, there is blues in it, in a way, because it is a song of humanity, the strife, the strain, the busyness, the joy.

Gershwin himself played piano for the piece in a concert on February 12, 1924, with Paul Whiteman and the Palais Royal Orchestra, in New York City. He improvised his solos. Orchestrator Ferde Grofé just wrote “Wait for the nod” on the music, so Whiteman would know when to let Gershwin play his solos, and when to bring the orchestra back in. Gershwin later recorded piano scrolls of him playing the piece, but the first performance was not recorded or notated.

Hodges, who is a brilliant pianist, gave us astounding solos in “Rhapsody.”

And the Pops and Venaas matched him in quality of performance. It was very moving, and inspiring.

The Pops calls itself an “all-request symphony.” Here’s my request: That they program “Rhapsody in Blue” again as soon as possible, again with Hodges.

The Rhapsody was the finale of a two-hour, one intermission concert.

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The program, “Gershwin, Porter and Friends,” included a good range of the Great American Songbook, most of which was well performed. “Body and Soul,” “But Not For Me,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Georgia On My Mind” and many other familiar tunes were heard.

Beautiful singer Carly Honfi came out — on her first wedding anniversary — dressed in her wedding gown. She looked great, and the audience loved it. She sang “Nice Work If You Can Get It” in a strange arrangement that had the orchestra performing in a crisp up-tempo form while she rather crooned the song, with no edge.

Later, she sang Gordon Jenkin’s 1934 tune, “P.S. I Love You” and sang much more crisply, which made for a good change. She was joined by Hodges on piano — he came out in top-hat-and-tails, which made for a lot of laughs. They looked like they belonged on top of a wedding cake.

Another singer on hand for this date was Matthew Hall, who has a beautiful voice, but who seemed to be operating independently of the orchestra. Venaas started the Pops at an up-tempo pace for “Come Rain or Come Shine,” but Hall crooned his way into the tune slowly, and seemed to change tempos as he went along. Venaas did an amazing job somehow keeping the orchestra with him.

Hall had more gusto later, for “Johnny One Note.”

The San Mateo Performing Arts Center has been beautifully remodeled, looking and sounding now like a fine performance hall, rather than the scruffy high school auditorium it once was.

A lot of walking is required of patrons, thanks partially to a parking lot that stretches the length of San Mateo High School’s football field behind the auditorium. Many patrons were heard to grouse about the long walk, including me. The Pops might think of providing a shuttle service for its patrons, since many of us are of an age and condition where long walks can be a challenge.

Email John Orr at