photo courtesy The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc.

Music Notes: Leonard Bernstein at 100

Written by Kenneth LaFave Category: Arts Issue: January 2018
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Leonard Bernstein at 100
Only one musician in history has composed Broadway musicals, conducted symphonies by Mozart and Mahler, and reached millions of people on TV with shows about Beethoven and jazz: Leonard Bernstein. In a single year – 1957 – Bernstein was named the first American-born music director of the country’s oldest orchestra, the New York Philharmonic; introduced CBS-TV audiences to the music of Bach; composed the score to one of Broadway’s most enduring musical hits, West Side Story… and turned 39. Do the math and you’ll see that he was born in 1918, making 2018 the centennial of Bernstein’s birth. Unfortunately, Bernstein isn’t here to see countrywide “Leonard Bernstein at 100” ( celebrations of his life’s work – he died of a heart attack believed to be caused by mesothelioma five days after retiring in October 1990. Here are three Valley opportunities to hear some of Bernstein’s best on his 100th.

Arizona Opera will produce Bernstein’s operetta February 2-4 at Symphony Hall in Phoenix. Bernstein took Voltaire’s satire on excessive optimism and set it to the musical equivalent of popping Champagne corks. At once hilarious and moving, Candide is sure to convince you that, while this is definitely not “the best of all possible worlds,” life is very much worth living. Best lyric exchange: He to his beloved sings, “You were dead, you know.” She answers, “Ah, but love will find a way!”

A Tribute to Leonard Bernstein
A quieter, chamber-music side of this multi-faceted musician finds expression February 26 at the Musical Instrument Museum, featuring clarinetist David Shifrin. Shifrin will play Bernstein’s elegant-but-jazzy Clarinet Sonata, plus music by two composers who influenced Bernstein deeply: George Gershwin and Aaron Copland.

West Side Story
Gangs rumble and lovers secretly meet in Bernstein’s contemporary take on Romeo and Juliet, his best-known work. The Phoenix Symphony under music director Tito Muñoz will give the piece a concert treatment March 2-4. Best moment: Juliet’s balcony becomes a Manhattan fire escape, where the Puerto Rican Maria steals away to meet her forbidden Anglo lover, Tony.