Tanglewood's Bernstein Centennial

All Star Tribute Hosted by Audra McDonald

By: - Aug 27, 2018

Bernstein Centennial Celebration
August 25, 2018
Hosted by Audra McDonald

Leonard Bernstein
Overture to Candide
Andris Nelsons conducting

Leonard Bernstein
First movement “Phaedrus: Pausanias” (Lento-Allegro) from Serenade (After Plato’s “Symposium”) for violin and orchestra
Midori, violin
Christoph Eschenbach conducting

Leonard Bernstein
“Kaddish 2” from Symphony No. 3 “Kaddish”
Nadine Sierra, soprano
Women of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus
Keith Lockhart conducting

Leonard Bernstein
Meditation No. 3 for cello and orchestra from Mass
Kian Soltani, cello
Christoph Eschenbach conducting

Leonard Bernstein
Selections from West Side Story
Isabel Leonard (Maria)
Jessica Vosk (Anita)
Tony Yazbeck (Tony)
Clyde Alves (Riff)
Sharks and Jets ensemble
Women of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus
Michael Tilson Thomas conducting

Gustav Mahler
“Der Schildwache Nachtlied” from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
Thomas Hampson, baritone
Andris Nelsons conducting

Aaron Copland
Finale of Appalachian Spring
Michael Tilson Thomas conducting

John Williams
Highwood’s Ghost
Jessica Zhou, harp
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
John Williams conducting

Gustav Mahler
Finale from Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”
Nadine Sierra, soprano
Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano
Tanglewood Festival Chorus
Andris Nelsons

The summer long celebration of the Leonard Bernstein Centennial ended with a musical extravaganza. In what will be remembered as an historic occasion and one for the ages, hosted by Audra McDonald, we enjoyed vintage footage, clips from interviews, tributes, and a rich buffet of the full range of his composing as well of performances of his beloved favorites.

There was a blow out, all star parade of five conductors and numerous celebrity soloists. It was filmed by PBS for a Great Performances broadcast  scheduled for December.

In two segments, with an intermission, it started at 8 PM and dipped past 11 PM.

While not listed in the program there was a thrilling encore of McDonald in the haunting “Somewhere” from West Side Story. She was joined by all of the evening's partcipants There was a standing ovation and thunderous applause from the sold out audience in the Shed. It was a deserving response for what may go down as one of the most thrilling evenings ever staged at Tanglewood.

Through many performances, not just in the Berkshires, but also all over America there has been a cornucopia of performances and resultant saturation media coverage.

It was emphasized that Bernstein had a very special relationship with Tanglewood and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In addition to many appearances as a guest conductor he was often a teacher of Tanglewood conducting fellows.

In a special video, created and narrated for the occasion, we learned of his flamboyant arrivals in a series of spectacular white Cadillac convertibles. There was electricity when Lenny rolled in for a visit to the Lenox campus.

Many shared anecdotes including how he stated that he had literally seen a ghost

There was the tale of how he had seen a ghost at the 19th century Highwood building. From the stage McDonald pointed in its direction.

That inspired a John Williams piece composed in tribute for this occasion. It is a brief and cinematic, evocative work. Creating eerie spectral sounds were soloists Yo-Yo Ma on cello and BSO harp player Jessica Zhou.

The young Bernstein studied under the BSO’s Serge Alexandrovich Koussevitzky. It is said that the elder musician became a father figure.

The roots of Bernstein were firmly planted in Boston. From Boston Latin School he went on to Harvard. He was a founding professor in the music department of Brandeis University (1951 to 1957) where he launched a Creative Arts Festival.

Much like Babe Ruth, who was traded from the Red Sox to the Yankees, his career unfolded and blossomed in New York. Yet, through the BSO and Tanglewood, he maintained a close relationship to Boston.

With uncanny brilliance and energy, as was demonstrated during the birthday tribute, he had many interests any one of which would have comprised a celebrated career. At its peak Bernstein continued to conduct the classical repertoire, conquered Broadway with West Side Story, composed “serious” music, and became a TV celebrity in the acclaimed series “Omnibus” which was hosted by Britain’s Alistair Cook.

Attempting to nail down and define Bernstein is like trying to capture lightning in a bottle.

The strategy of the Tanglewood birthday bash was to let the music convey the message with wonderful narrative and anecdotes woven through.

We experienced the full range of his genius from music he composed as well as what he adored in kindred spirits Gustav Mahler, and his great friend and frequent Tanglewood companion, Aaron Copland. With the latter they shared a passion for Americana. It was represented in an excerpt from Copland’s Appalachian Spring conducted atmospherically by Michael Tilson Thomas.   

That confluence of vernacular genres and high brow composing resulted in the atom smashing music of West Side Story. It resulted from a collaboration with Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Robbins. Last week Jacob’s Pillow celebrated Robbins with Stars of the American Ballet. The summer long Bernstein Centennial featured music for the film of West Side Story as well of staging with the Boston Ballet of Fancy Free which led to  On the Town. Bernstein’s Broadway work with Robbins was well represented.

There were so many wonderful highlights of the Tanglewood Tribute.

Andris Nelsons got things started, literally with a bang, evoking percussion explosions in the overture to Candide. That Broadway musical was recently performed at Tanglewood in a raucous manner by The Knights.

In the video we learned how a 14-year-old prodigy, Midori, twice broke a string while performing First movement “Phaedrus: Pausanias” (Lento-Allegro) from Serenade (After Plato’s “Symposium”) for violin and orchestra. The maestro conducted his composition on that occasion. There were no mishaps this time as she rendered, with stunning intensity, the soft and evocative composition that she literally “owns.”

Of course the audience was thrilled  by the West Side Story component. It was great fun to see conductor Michael Tilson Thomas literally throw himself into the music. That really energized the orchestra.

Nelsons brought it all home with a stunning rendering of Mahler’s Finale from Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection.” There was a sad irony that the memorial music was performed just as America learned of the passing of one of our great patriots Senator John McCain.

As Ron Della Chiesa, the voice of the BSO, put it “Lenny would have loved” the musical tribute.