Strike up the band – or orchestra! George Gershwin was back in town over the weekend.

” ‘S Wonderful! A Gershwin Celebration,” presented by the Portland Symphony Orchestra in performances Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, gathered a selection of songs and concert works from throughout the master’s all-too-brief career.

Eckart Preu, one of three candidates hoping to replace Robert Moody next season as music director of the PSO, selected the program for his PSO Pops! tryout. Good choice.

The composer’s signature blend of popular and formal musical genres was greeted with inspired engagement by the PSO, although Preu claimed to have had only three hours for rehearsal.

The orchestra quickly got rhythm as numbers from the musical “Girl Crazy” opened the program. The alternately flowing and punchy (a theme throughout the evening) rendition of the show’s “Overture” gave the crowd a chance to adjust to Preu’s highly animated approach to conducting. As if physically drawing the music from the musicians, the leader’s long arms hovered above them, tracing invisible patterns and grabbing at tight changes.

The first of two guest artists selected by Preu, soprano Jacqueline Bolier, then entered to sing “I Got Rhythm,” “Embraceable You” and “The Man I Love.” Her voice seemed to only occasionally peek through the assertive reading by the orchestra on the first piece, but nicely found its place in the mix for the second piece, and went on from there to add touching emotion and longing to the third.

Bolier’s operatic gifts became obvious later during versions of “Summertime” and “Our Love is Here to Stay.” Sounding truly ethereal in the former, she fit a little less comfortably within the latter’s jazzy arrangement.

Preu proved personable and humorous when discussing his experience of first hearing Gershwin as a child in East Germany. He even sang a few bars of “Summertime” in German, gaining chuckles from the crowd.

“An American in Paris” had the orchestral colors surpassing those by which the players were warmly lit on the wide stage. The famous sounds of Parisian life, as experienced by Gershwin on a visit there, were woven in and occasionally highlighted by individual moments for trumpet, violin and sax, among other instrumental voices.

The piece de resistance came with the arrival of guest pianist Terrence Wilson, who simply wowed the crowd on the well-known and well-loved “Rhapsody in Blue.” Spiritedly engaging with the piece’s “insane cadenzas,” as Preu described them in introducing the piece, Wilson brought out all the drama and jazziness of the work. He rode high atop the famous swells of melody and made the piece feel fresher than ever.

It was a great end to an entertaining and engrossing evening for which the conductor, guests, orchestra and, of course, Gershwin received a well-deserved standing ovation.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.