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Montage | Performance

Maestro Lenny

September-October 2006

Leonard Bernstein ’39, D.Mus. ’67, will always be remembered as the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, but he was a native New Englander, born in 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts. From October 12 through 14, Harvard’s music department will collaborate with the Office for the Arts on “Leonard Bernstein: Boston to Broadway,” a festival of concerts, exhibitions, screenings, master classes, and symposia (see www.fas.harvard.edu/~ofa/bernstein).

That weekend, Cambridge will brim with music, photographs, films, and conversations celebrating the man who has been called “music’s most exuberant hero.” There’ll be a student-curated exhibit on Boston’s Bernstein at the Loeb Music Library and at the Morse Music and  Media Collection in Lamont, the fruition of a spring 2006 seminar taught by Watts professor of music Kay Shelemay and Mason professor of music Carol Oja, who is writing a book on Bernstein’s theatrical music. “He had a kind of charisma and our students found that it was there from the beginning,” says Oja. “Bernstein drew people in.”

Eliot House, where the composer lived as an undergraduate, will host an exhibition of Bernstein photographs taken by Steve J. Sherman. Films on Bernstein and television shows from the 1950s will portray the conductor who had such a gift for both dramatization and education, and who gave the 1971 Norton Lectures at Harvard, later published as The Unanswered Question. “Bernstein had major international impact,” Oja notes. “In terms of wide reach, you could put him alongside Elvis, the Beatles, and just a handful of other twentieth-century figures.”

Bernstein’s daughters, Nina Bernstein Simmons ’70, NF ’84, and Jamie Bernstein Thomas ’74, his son, Alexander Bernstein ’77, and his brother Burton Bernstein will speak at a panel on “Family Matters.” Childhood friends, former colleagues, and performers of Bernstein’s music will join in the festival. These include Harold Prince, producer of Bernstein’s 1957 musical West Side Story; actress and dancer Chita Rivera, who played Anita in that show’s original cast, and lyricist Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof). Two concerts, both under the direction of Judith Clurman of Juilliard, will feature Bernstein’s music. One will focus on rarely performed early works, including the Piano Trio (1937; written while an undergraduate), the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (1942), and the world premiere of an arrangement he wrote for Rhapsody in Blue just a month after George Gershwin died in the summer of 1937, when Bernstein was a counselor at Camp Onota in the Berkshires. The instrumentation—fora campers’ ensemble —is unusual: recorder, clarinet, accordion, voices, ukelele, piano, and percussion. The concluding concert will offer compositions for the theater.

~C.L.