George Gershwin will join the Sydney Symphony Orchestra from beyond the grave in the SSO’s A Night at the Speakeasy concert. Gershwin’s ghostly appearance at the concert, playing “live” from the 1930s, will be made possible by Peter Phillips, a leader in the digitisation of piano rolls – which allowed player pianos to capture the performances of pianists and reproduce them – using Yamaha’s state of the art Disklavier technology. The concert, conducted by Guy Noble, also features soprano Ali McGregor and burlesque queen Imogen Kelly. To celebrate, we’re taking a look at the life and career of George Gershwin in this piece by Graham Abbott.

George Gershwin, Speakeasy, Sydney Symphony OrchestraOboist Shefali Pryor and flautist Emma Sholl. Photo © Sydney Symphony Orchestra

Very few composers have spoken the languages of both popular and classical music as fluently as George Gershwin. Born in 1898 to Russian migrants, he began piano lessons around the age of ten, and was lucky to find, in Charles Hambitzer, a teacher who encouraged him, taking him to concerts and teaching him works from the standard repertoire.

At 15, Gershwin dropped out of school and started working as a song plugger. For the sum of $15...