A new exhibition in Philadelphia, a daughter’s memoir and a Tanglewood concert have special appeal for the AFIPO.
The two years of special concerts, exhibitions and conferences currently underway to honor Leonard Bernstein, are part of a worldwide centennial celebration centered around the 100th Anniversary of his birth next month, on August 25, 2018.
Here are three ways for AFIPO members to deepen and share their appreciation for Leonard Bernstein as we near the big day.
BERNSTEIN’S ISRAEL CONNECTION
In Philadelphia, the National Museum of American Jewish History is adding a unique perspective to the centennial conversation with ‘Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music‘ (March 16 – September 2, 2018). This is the first large-scale exhibition to focus on the composer-conductor’s life through the lens of his Jewish identity and social activism.
“We wanted to contribute something new and different to all the celebrations,” said NMAJH Associate Curator Ivy Weingram. “We also wanted a retrospective that serves our mission to preserve and educate about how Jewish immigrants became Jewish Americans.”
Weingram, who is curator of the Bernstein exhibition, said the exhibit was about three-and-a-half years in the making and will go on a national tour after closing in Philadelphia, where Bernstein lived for two years while earning his conducting diploma at the Curtis Institute of Music. So far the tour includes stops at Brandeis University and the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Ohio.
“Bernstein said that if there was one central theme or purpose to his body of original works, it is a search for a solution to the 20th Century crisis of faith,” Weingram told us. “For Leonard Bernstein, faith had a religious or spiritual component that was deeply grounded in his Jewish identity. He also thought about it in terms of our relationships as human beings, with each other and with our government and our nation’s leaders. We wanted to examine how living through World War II and the Holocaust, the Cold War, the Vietnam Era and such tremendous social change manifested itself in his life and work. So the stories that we tell in this exhibition focus on or draw out one or more of those ideas about faith.”
“The relationship begins in the mid-1940s when it was the Palestine Orchestra and continues through the end of his life,” Weingram added. “He conducted the Israel Philharmonic over 25 different seasons, which makes it one of the orchestras with which he worked the most in terms of years and seasons. It’s in the top five, right up there with the New York Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic.”
Weingram noted how much Bernstein believed in the power of cultural diplomacy and the power of music to shine a light on developing Israeli culture following statehood.
“In our exhibition his relationship with Israel is one of our main themes,” she said. “We show the deep and rich relationship and the love that he had for Israel, its culture, its people and its food, He absolutely loved being there, sightseeing as well as working with the orchestra. And, he was there at a number of significant moments in the life of the state, notably in 1948, during the war of Independence, when he played and conducted in Beersheba.
“In 1967,” she continued, “a month after the Six Day War, he conducted an historic concert on Mount Scopus that celebrated the reunification of Jerusalem. We have a number of objects and materials in the exhibition from that historic event. We show a five-minute piece of film from the documentary A Journey to Jerusalem by the Maysles brothers, who followed Bernstein on this 1967 visit. And you see him visiting the Kotel and rehearsing the orchestra and at the final concert. We also have his handwritten remarks from the concert in the exhibition, as well as a recording of Hatikva that was made there at the beginning of the concert.”
As they did in Bernstein’s life, Israel and the Israel Philharmonic figure prominently in the NMAJH exhibition.
For more information on the museum’s exhibition, visit its webpage.
A DAUGHTER’S REMEMBRANCE
A highlight of the Bernstein exhibition in Philadelphia was the “Jamie Bernstein Museum Takeover” April 18-22, which included the composer-conductor’s eldest daughter in a panel discussion with Weingram and others.
This year Bernstein added her contribution to her father’s centennial by publishing her memoir, Famous Father Girl. It is an intimate portrait that provides a candid companion piece for the grand tributes currently being staged around the world.
From images of his mornings in his “scruffy brown wool bathrobe,” reading the paper, wrestling with “bedevilingly hard British crossword puzzles,” and morning breath of “orange juice, coffee, L&M cigarettes, and kippered herring,” to recollections of seeing him in white-tie-and-tails on their home’s black and white television, Bernstein gives us the human side of this man of heroic proportions.
Dramatist John Guare is among the many great artists who lauds the book, calling it a “compulsively readable adventure tale” written with “jaw-dropping honesty and humor.”
For more information and to purchase a copy, visit Jamie’s site.
On August 25, AFIPO members will be welcome as special guests of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at its gala celebration of ‘Bernstein in the Berkshires.’ Hosted by Audra McDonald it will feature the BSO and special guests from several orchestras that Bernstein had a special relationship with, including the Israel Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic.
The program of Bernstein favorites will feature performances by Yo-Yo Ma, Midori, Thomas Hampson, Susan Graham, Isabel Leonard, and others.
Although a special AFIPO-member package, with seating in The Shed and access to a post-concert reception, has sold out, seats are still available on the lawn and we look forward to joining many of you to mark Bernstein’s actual 100th Birthday.
Inset photos: Leonard Bernstein in Beersheba, Israel, in November 1948; a letter from the exhibition written to his mother, Jennie, with illustrations by Yossi Stern, describing the trip; and the book jacket of Jamie Bernstein’s memoir.