The University of Colorado College of Music has joined the rest of the musical world to celebrate the centennial of the unique American composer, conductor, teacher, writer, lecturer and humanitarian Leonard Bernstein.
Just about the entire College of Music is represented in the months-long festival, from individual faculty members to the University Symphony, the Eklund Opera Program and even the Marching Band.
The celebration gains an extra dimension starting Monday, Sept. 24, with the arrival on campus of three prominent guests: Jamie Bernstein, the composer’s daughter and author of the recently released memoir Famous Father Girl; violinist Glenn Dicterow, concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic for 34 years who played many performances Bernstein conducted; and Carol Oja, William Powell Mason Professor of Music at Harvard University and one of the leading Bernstein scholars.
The three guests will open the week with a joint appearance Monday afternoon. Oja will present a keynote address for the celebration, followed by a public discussion moderated by Susan Thomas, director of the CU American Music Research Center. Each of the guests will then participate in individual events during the rest of the week.
Andrew Cooperstock, CU professor and artistic director of CU Bernstein at 100, organized the festival. He recorded all of Bernstein’s piano music, and talks about the composer’s importance. “Bernstein was one of the most significant musical figures of the 20th century, particularly in America,” he says.
“He helped define American music, with a fresh, personal voice that combined an interest in both classical and popular idioms. Rather than just focusing on one [thing], his mission seemed to be to synthesize all of them. Whether he was conducting the New York Philharmonic, producing a Young People’s Concert, playing the piano for friends, writing about music, or participating in humanitarian efforts, he was teaching us something about the importance of music.”
Two performances in particular will feature the guests, starting with Faculty Tuesday (Sept. 25) in Grusin Hall. The program will feature Bernstein’s chamber music, performed by faculty and students, introduced and narrated by Jamie Bernstein.
Bernstein can’t give details about her presentation, but you can expect insights from within the Bernstein orbit. “What I usually do is to say something about each piece, but not necessarily between every piece,” she says. “The likelihood is that I will talk about three or four selections at a time.”
One highlight of the concert will be Cooperstock’s performance with Bernstein. “She and I will collaborate on five of the ‘Anniversaries’,” he says, referring to piano pieces that Leonard Bernstein wrote for close friends and family members. “She will project personal pictures of the people [the pieces were written for] and share anecdotes about them, so there’s a direct connection with Leonard Bernstein by way of his daughter.”
To mention just three other faculty performances on the program: Soprano Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson and pianist Alexandra Nguyen will perform the humorous cycle “I Hate Music!”; Leigh Holman, director of the Eklund Opera Program, will sing the anti-war song “So Pretty” with pianist Jeremy Reger; and Daniel Silver will play the Sonata for clarinet and piano with Margaret McDonald.
Thursday’s University Orchestra concert will feature two of Bernstein’s pieces — the ubiquitous Overture to Candide, and the less familiar suite from the film On the Waterfront. These again will be introduced by Jamie Bernstein, and Dicterow will play the Barber Violin Concerto for the second half of the program
“The primary criterion for selecting repertoire for the university orchestra is to serve the students,” conductor Gary Lewis says. “On the Waterfront is really terrific music, and has solo opportunities for musicians in the orchestra, so I think it was a good fit in our curriculum.”
The Barber Concerto is another piece that serves the students well, Lewis says. “It has such beautiful tunes, and the last movement is incredibly challenging for the orchestra as well, but the orchestra is just really eating it up.”
Dicterow has played the Barber with Bernstein, including once on tour before an audience of 10,000 in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. “Fortunately there was a mic,” he says.
“It is an absolutely beautiful piece. It was a pleasure for me to learn and to keep in my repertoire. He managed to write something beautiful and tonal and individual, and do it in such a sincere way. Who could help but love the Barber Concerto?”
For Jamie Bernstein, it is her father as teacher that she wants to highlight. “He was a compulsive teacher and communicator,” she says. “Everything he did was a form of teaching, whether he was rehearsing an orchestra, or telling a good Jewish joke.”
On the Bill: Bernstein at 100. Throughout the fall 2018 semester. All events are free and open to the public. For a full schedule of events, please visit: colorado.edu/event/bernstein.