Leonard Bernstein Is Tanglewood’s Birthday Boy
Leonard Bernstein at Boston University Tanglewood Institute.Photo credit: Courtesy Boston University Tanglewood Institute.
Audra McDonaldPhoto credit: Autumn de Wilde
This summer, set aside any notions of Tanglewood as being all symphonies, all the time. Want to catch a movie or a Broadway musical? How about a funny opera and some ballet? It’s all there, courtesy of Leonard Bernstein.
On what would have been the composer’s 100th birthday summer, Tanglewood stages a Lenny Love-Fest filled with enough music he created and music he loved to make the Maestro swoon.
Flamboyant and fierce, Bernstein was a real rock star. When it came to making music, he could and did do it all. He conducted orchestras around the world and reached millions championing classical music on TV. With an oversized, oversexed personality, Bernstein knew how to “Glitter And Be Gay” (to quote “Candide”) and also be a devoted husband and father to three children.
Bernstein at Boston University Tanglewood Institute. Photo courtesy BUTI.
Bernstein considered Tanglewood paradise on earth. Beloved BSO leader and Tanglewood founder Serge Koussevitsky took Lenny under his wing on Aaron Copland’s recommendation, and Bernstein returned year after year, sharing his talent and teachings with Tanglewood Music Center Fellows and adoring audiences. He conducted his final concert there in 1990, not long before his death at age 72.
With help from BSO’s Eric Valliere, here are some “don’t miss” selections from a season awash with highlights.
Even in Massachusetts, “New York, New York” never sounded so good. On July 7 Keith Lockhart leads the Boston Pops and a Broadway cast in a semi-staged “On The Town” (“an absolute delight,” says Valliere) written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden (Bernstein met Green at a Berkshire summer camp). The blockbuster musical evolved from “Fancy Free,” Bernstein’s first ballet score with choreography by Jerome Robbins — both were only 25 — which the Boston Ballet performs on Aug. 18 (“lights, sets, costumes, the whole shebang,” Valliere promises), BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons conducting.
On Aug. 22 and 23, “Candide” gets the full treatment in Ozawa Hall with music performed by The Knights, Brooklyn’s and now Tanglewood’s favorite classical pick-up band. With Lillian Hellman’s book and lyrics by Richard Wilbur — the late Berkshire-based almost-centenarian Pulitzer-winning poet — Bernstein turns Voltaire’s deliciously deviant 18th century tale of a naive hero, worldly tutor, long-suffering girlfriend and strange old lady into a wildly eccentric adventure. Jacob’s Pillow honoree John Heginbotham puts the cast through their dancing paces.
Audra McDonald. Photo: Autumn de Wilde.
On July 12, Jamie Bernstein directs a semi-staged production of her dad’s semi-autobiographical one-act opera “Trouble in Tahiti.” But there’s nothing Polynesian about this snazzy, jazzy scenario of suburban discontent. On Aug. 9, its fully staged sequel “A Quiet Place” (no, not the scary movie) looks at a love triangle through the lens of family relationships.
On July 28, the Sharks and the Jets prowl across the movie screen in “West Side Story” accompanied by a very live orchestra. Natalie Wood’s vocal fireworks came courtesy of dubbing diva Marni Nixon, no stranger to the Berkshires or to Bernstein.
Still can’t make your mind up what to do? You can have it all at a Centennial Celebration Concert for the ages on Aug. 25, the day Lenny would turn 100. Broadway superstar Audra McDonald hosts and performs alongside classical and show tune singers as well as five conductors, guests from a half dozen orchestras connected to Bernstein, Tanglewood Festival Chorus, more Jets and Sharks, etc etc. Bernstein’s music mixes with Mahler and Copland, plus a new John Williams composition for orchestra and Yo-Yo Ma. See it to believe.
When you get to Tanglewood — and you know you will — just picture Bernstein cruising in his convertible across the campus, the only person ever allowed to do so. His license plate “MAESTRO 1” was well deserved.
Full schedule details of the Bernstein Centennial Summer — Celebrating Lenny at Tanglewood! can be found at www.tanglewood.org
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