WESTFIELD, NJ — “An American and Paris” kicks off the 2016-17 season for Westfield’s own New Jersey Festival Orchestra on Saturday, Oct. 1 in a dramatic homage to both America and Paris featuring two of George Gershwin’s best-loved orchestral works and a favorite by Parisian composer Claude Debussy.

The concert begins with Gershwin’s renowned “Concerto in F,” widely considered the most successful American piano concerto ever, the elegant and moving work a perfect example of Gershwin’s virtuosic ability to weave jazz themes into a classical symphonic piece, according to the  NJFO.

“Last year’s sell-out performance of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ made Gershwin’s return a no-brainer,” Music Director and Conductor David Wroe said. “Gershwin has risen in the ranks of American classical composers to take his seat with Bernstein, Copland and Barber as America’s best.”

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Opening the second half of the program is “Fetes” from Parisian Claude Debussy’s orchestral work “Nocturnes” for orchestra, inspired by James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s series of Impressionist paintings. “Fetes” paints a vivid picture of the rustic pleasures enjoyed by Debussy during his Paris childhood, according to the NJFO.  “An American in Paris” bookends the program.

“’An American and Paris’ demonstrates two different sides of French life as depicted by an insider — Debussy — and an outsider — Gershwin,” Wroe said. “Gershwin captures the symphonic noise of Paris. Debussy portrays the beauty of the city’s colors, sights and senses.”

Guest pianist Jack Gibbons’ will perform with the orchestra for the Gershwin pieces.

“A concerto of this complexity demands a virtuoso pianist with superb technique,” Wroe said. Described by the BBC as “THE Gershwin pianist of our time” and by Classic FM as “one of the world's greatest Gershwin exponents,” guest pianist Jack Gibbons’ performing career has taken him across the world, with regular appearances at New York’s Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, and London’s Queen Elizabeth and Royal Albert Halls.

“We are thrilled to be able to showcase the unbelievable talent of Jack Gibbons right here in both Westfield and Madison,” Wroe said. “He is a powerhouse of passion and technique.”

Gibbons has a powerful connection with George Gershwin, having specialized in performing his music for almost 30 years.

“My introduction to Gershwin's music came through his ‘Concerto in F’ when an orchestra in England asked me to play the work in 1988,” Gibbons said. “I immediately fell in love with the work, and despite knowing very little about the composer, I realized very quickly that this was the work of a truly great mind. Gershwin is one of the giants of 20th Century music.”

Born in 1962, Gibbons began performing in public at the age of 10, made his professional solo recital debut at the age of 15, his London debut at 17 and at 20 won the Newport International Pianoforte Competition.

In 1990, after an absence of several years, he made a dramatic comeback when he gave the first of what have become annual all-Gershwin programs. A year later he was invited to New York to meet members of Gershwin's family and eventually published his series of “Authentic Gershwin” recordings.

“It’s perfect that David Wroe has chosen to place Gershwin beside Debussy,” said Gibbons. “Debussy was one of Gershwin’s favorite composers, and his music had a profound influence on Gershwin, perhaps more than any other composer. It will be enlightening to hear the two composers together in the same concert.”

“This is set to be one of the most energetic, uplifting and fascinating concert experiences one can ever hope to have,” Wroe added. “We hope that you will come and be part of this unique celebration.

The concert is presented through the support of The Stepanski Foundation

“An American and Paris”  will be performed Saturday, Oct. 1, at 7 p.m. at The Presbyterian Church in Westfield and on Sunday, Oct. 2, at 3 p.m. at Drew University in Madison.

Discounted student tickets are available for $20. For tickets and information call 908-232-9400 or visit http://www.njfestivalorchestra.org.