Coming Events: Bernstein At 100, Feted Everywhere

Leonard Bernstein, in 1946, parties with friends at the Hotel Dorset after a Gershwin memorial concert. (Photos from the Library of Congress)

DATE BOOK — It is hardly surprising that the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth is being celebrated worldwide throughout the 2017-18 season with hundreds of concerts, lectures, symposiums and other events. When the BBC Music Magazine presented its list of the 20 greatest conductors of all time, as voted on by 100 of today’s top maestros, standing at No. 2 was Leonard Bernstein. And that only begins to tell the story of one of this country’s most influential and multitalented musicians ever.

Besides a leading conductor, Bernstein was also a major pianist, an educator who inspired multitudes of children through his nationally televised Young People’s Concerts, and a versatile composer whose output includes the score for one of the country’s most beloved musicals, West Side Story. He was also a devoted humanitarian who spoke out for such causes as human rights and disarmament through both words and music.

Here is a sampling of Bernstein celebrations planned throughout the season in the United States and Canada. To download a comprehensive list of Bernstein events worldwide, organized by country, go here.

New York: Young People’s Concert looks back at an inspirational educator

Nov. 11 at the New York Philharmonic: Full details

None of Bernstein’s many talents was more important than his natural gift as an educator, as he demonstrated during the 53 now-legendary Young People’s Concerts he oversaw from 1958-72 as music director of the New York Philharmonic. Originally broadcast on Saturday mornings, the concerts were shown for three years during prime time on the CBS network and later shifted to Sunday afternoons. As part of  “Bernstein’s Philharmonic: A Centennial Festival,” guest conductor Leonard Slatkin and other collaborators including Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie, join the Philharmonic for a Young People’s Concert that looks back at this golden era in the series.

Tucson: Desert Song Festival offers 30 events marking Bernstein @100

Jan. 16-Feb. 4 at the Desert Song Festival:  Full details
Narrator, writer and broadcaster Jamie Bernstein

A host of works is planned, including a new reduced version of Bernstein’s Mass with True Concord Voices and Orchestra and baritone Jubilant Sykes as the Celebrant. Leading the effort is festival director George Hanson, who served as an assistant to Bernstein. The composer’s daughter, Jamie, is artist-in-residence for the festival, and Matthew Mugman serves as scholar-in-residence. Along with key compositions by Bernstein, the event includes films, lectures, masterclasses and symposiums, including one titled “Bernstein’s Impact on American Music.”

Los Angeles: Frasier star Kelsey Grammer takes role of Professor Pangloss

Jan. 27 at the Los Angeles Opera: Full details
Leonard Bernstein in 1956, at the time he wrote ‘Candide.’ (Library of Congress)

Bernstein’s music for the operetta Candide has long been beloved, but the oft-revamped libretto has proven troublesome. The Los Angeles Opera presents a co-production staged by famed director Francesca Zambello. It debuted at the Glimmerglass Festival in 2015 and drew a largely positive review from Washington Post music critic Anne Midgette. But, she wrote, “no staging can quite paper over its dramatic flaws (such as a second half that feels, until the end, largely extraneous).” This version stars Kelsey Grammer in the central roles of Voltaire and Dr. Pangloss and features music director James Conlon as conductor.

Edmonton, Alberta: Bernstein’s wit and wisdom explored in celebratory weekend

March 9-10 at the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra: Full details
William Eddins, Edmonton Symphony music director emeritus

Music director emeritus William Eddins leads a pair of Bernstein concerts in differing formats — a late night Friday devoted to music from Candide and Fancy Free, along with the Serenade for violin followed by drinks and conversation, and a Saturday night pairing of the Bernstein orchestral works with Vaughan Williams’ Eighth Symphony and his Variants on Dives and Lazarus. The violinist in the Serenade is Edmonton-raised Andrew Wan, who in 2008 became concertmaster of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra at age 24.

Kansas City: Joyce DiDonato brings together Berlioz and Bernstein

March 16 at the Kansas City Symphony:  Full details
Joyce DiDonato sings Bernstein songs (Simon Pauly)

With “LB 100: A Century of Bernstein,” Missouri’s Kansas City Symphony has put together one of the country’s most ambitious tributes to the great musical polyglot. Programs include cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing Three Meditations from Bernstein’s Mass as well as mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato performing the Bernstein songs “Greeting,” “Music I Heard with You,” and “What My Lips Have Kissed” as part of a program that also includes the Symphonic Dances from West Side StoryMusic director Michael Stern conducts.

Vancouver: Spring festival honors Bernstein and other legends

March 17-24 at the Vancouver Symphony: Full details

Music director Bramwell Tovey has devised a festival rich in Bernstein’s music, with the Chichester Psalms —  biblical psalms set in their original Hebrew with an orchestra of trumpets, trombones, percussion, two harps and strings — on March 17 paired with Orff’s Carmina Burana. Other Bernstein works include The Age of Anxiety, on March 19, which Bernstein described as “a record of our difficult and problematical search for faith”; and the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story paired with Mahler’s Fourth Symphony May 24.

Burlington, Vermont: Stories and songs salute a celebrated night owl

March 23 at the University of Vermont: Full details

Late nights were the norm for Bernstein, who loved to share music and conversation with some of the leading cultural lights of the time, including such visitors as composer Aaron Copland and lyricist Adolph Green. The composer’s daughter, Jamie, presents memories of those of intimate soirées in her childhood living room in New York City during a multimedia cabaret program titled “Late Night with Leonard Bernstein.” Joining her are pianists Michael Boriskin and John Musto with soprano Amy Burton.

Kalamazoo:  J’Nai Bridges and Anne Akiko Meyers headline centennial concert

March 24 at the Kalamazoo Symphony: Full details
Mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges (Todd Rosenberg)

The Kalamazoo Symphony is making its own ambitious contribution to the nationwide festivities with an all-Bernstein program led by guest conductor Stilian Kirov. It includes violinist Anne Akiko Meyers as soloist in the composer’s Serenade and mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges in Symphony No. 1 (Jeremiah). The fast-rising singer completed a three-year apprenticeship at Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center in 2015 and was recently named a 2018 winner of the Sphinx Medal of Excellence, which comes with $50,000 in career grants. 

New York: Trinity Church showcases Bernstein’s lesser-known works

April 12-June 2, 2-18: Full details
Manuscript, ‘To what you said,’ from Bernstein’s ‘Songfest’ (Library of Congress)

All concerts are free at a spring festival titled Total Embrace: Leonard Bernstein at 100.  Trinity Church Wall Streets’s vaunted music program presents some of the composer’s lesser-known compositions alongside works by other composer-conductors such as Boulez, Foss, Mahler and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Featured will be Julian Wachner, Trinity’s director music and the arts, and Novus NY, the church’s contemporary music orchestra. The festival opens April 12 with a program that includes Bernstein’s Songfest, a setting of 13 poems embracing 300 years of American history.  Other highlights include Halil: Nocturne for Solo Flute and Serenade for violin, May 24; Suite No. 2 from Dybbuk, May 31; Anniversaries for Orchestra, June 1; and the Kaddish Symphony, June 2.

Houston: Zambello directs new production of West Side Story

April 20 at Houston Grand Opera: Full details
Bernstein rehearses ‘West Side Story’. Carol Lawrence (Maria) is at his left, Stephen
Sondheim at piano, 1957. (LOC)

Broadway’s West Side Story brought together an incredible assortment of creative talent, including lyricist Stephen Sondheim and choreographer Jerome Robbins with Bernstein. Noted American director Francesca Zambello directs what is being billed as the first major American opera house presentation of the 1957 musical, a co-production with Glimmerglass Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago. Timothy Myers, artistic and music director of North Carolina Opera, conducts and soprano Andrea Carroll and tenor Norman Reinhardt take the lead roles.

Toronto: Tovey honors Bernstein with Candide complete in concert

April 26, 28 at the Toronto Symphony: Full details
Bernstein, at the piano, annotates a score. (World Telegram & Sun via Library of Congress)

Bramwell Tovey — whose early career was given a major boost through conducting Bernstein’s music in the composer’s presence — leads a cast of vocalists, members of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and the Orchestra in Bernstein’s operetta based on Voltaire’s satirical story about a guileless young man’s education in the ways of the world. Soloists include soprano Tracy Dahl as Cunegonde, mezzo-soprano Judith Forst as The Old Lady, tenor Nicholas Phan as Candide and baritone Richard Stuart as Pangloss.

Baltimore: Marin Alsop salutes her mentor with “To Bernstein with Love”

May 4 at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: Full details
Marin Alsop with mentor Leonard Bernstein (Walter Scott)

Marin Alsop was inspired to be a conductor after attending one of Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, and she later studied with him at the Tanglewood Music Festival. The Baltimore Symphony music director pays tribute to her mentor with this concert, which includes three dance episodes from On the Town, the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, and his Serenade for violin and orchestra, with Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti as soloist. Also on the program are three of the eight variations from A Bernstein Birthday Bouquet, each written by different composer to mark Bernstein’s 70th birthday. Those composers featured are Luciano Berio, John Corigliano and John Williams.

New York: New York City Ballet showcases Bernstein-Robbins classics

May 4, 5, 8, 20: Full details

In 1944, two relative unknowns – Jerome Robbins, a young dancer with Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre) and emerging composer Leonard Bernstein – teamed up for a ballet they called Fancy Free. They wanted to create a work with a distinctively modern American sensibility, and their comic, wonderfully idiomatic look at a group of sailors on leave in New York succeeded in spades. The premiere drew two dozen curtain calls and raves from the critics, and the work has gone on to become an unquestioned classic.  A program titled All Robbins No. 1: The Bernstein Collaborations, features Fancy Free and two other Bernstein-Robbins works: West Side Story Suite, a suite of dances from West Side Story, and Dybbuk. Music director Andrew Litton leads the New York City Ballet Orchestra.

Boston: Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti in a novel pairing

May 11-20, 2018 at Lyric Opera of Boston: Full details

Bernstein’s first true opera debuted in 1952 and has remained in the repertoire since, but Boston Lyric offers a fresh concept involving its pairing with Arias and Barcarolles, an eight-part song cycle that Bernstein composed in 1988. Trouble in Tahiti is a dark, 45-minute work that probes marital conflict and pokes holes in stereotypes of suburban bliss, with an imaginative score that combines a range of musical idioms. Conductor David Angus leads this new Lyric Opera of Boston pairing directed by David Schweizer, with sets designed by Paul Tate dePoo III. It stars mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson and Marcus DeLoach as the central couple, Dinah and Sam.

Kyle MacMillan was classical music critic for the Denver Post from 2000 through 2011. He is now a freelance journalist in Chicago, where he contributes regularly to the Chicago Sun-Times and Modern Luxury and writes for such national publications as the Wall Street Journal, Opera News, Chamber Music and Early Music America.

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