Over the past year, performing arts companies around the world have celebrated the work of Leonard Bernstein, who would have turned 100 August 25, 2018.
In May last year, the Leonard Bernstein Office announced the launch of Leonard Bernstein at 100, a two-year centennial celebration of the legendary composer and conductor. Joining members of Bernstein's family at the special press announcement were stage and screen star Alec Baldwin, entertainer Whoopi Goldberg, conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, American soprano Julia Bullock, and members of the Bernstein family.
The event highlighted the four “pillars” of Bernstein's legacy: composer, conductor, educator, and activist/humanitarian.
As we reflect on the composer's body of work, take a look at what some of the artists had to say regarding the timeliness of revisiting Bernstein's wide-ranging body of work below.
The conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and music director designate of the Metropolitan Opera spoke with Playbill, reflecting on the universality of Bernstein's repertoire and its ability to transcend genre and venue.
“His legacy as a whole needs to be embraced. We're talking about really meaningful pieces which helped—in their days—bridge the gap between the various genres. His Mass, West Side Story, Candide, and even Wonderful Town and Trouble in Tahiti, and the symphonies too. These works were not separated in his mind, but were part of the same breadth of bringing people together. It is our global mission as musicians to keep building bridges and as such, be one example for the rest of the world.”
During his introduction to the event, the actor highlighted the four “pillars” of Bernstein's career and legacy. Similar to his blending of genre that Nézet-Séguin discussed with Playbill, Bernstein's work was frequently an amalgamation of each of these.
“I am in constant awe of musicians who use their art to raise us all. New audiences will get to hear Bernstein's notes and experience that contagious joy of music. I wish I could have that experience myself for the first time again....We can only imagine how he would be expressing his views today. But you know he would be out there wielding his baton like a light saber and using his tireless voice to motivate, to educate, and to empower.”
The soprano sang two Bernstein pieces at the press event: West Side Story's “Somewhere” and “A Julia de Burgos” from Songfest. The latter, a musicalization of the Burgos poem of the same name, explores the complexities of female identity in a male-dominated society. Afterward, Bullock shared with Playbill what makes the piece especially resonant today.
“Bernstein was a visionary. You can always find him and his music on the right side of history....His focus was never just on delivering beautiful music; it always had a purpose and a message. There's a fierce quality to “Julia [de Burgos],” and the setting of it has a ferocious message and drive. That's what I'm thinking about as a woman singing the words of a beautiful artist who found her own freedom.”
During the event, the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award winner discussed Bernstein's work as a humanitarian. Echoing the sentiments of her colleagues, Goldberg noted his ability to convey powerful messages for music. She cited his Mass as one particular piece that has had a profound impact on her.
“For me, [Bernstein's] Mass is one of the greatest pieces of music for many reasons, but chiefly among them, it's a reminder when you listen to the words. It's the one thing that, in my house by myself, I will sing at the top of my lungs. You feel like you're closer to God. It's odd hearing me say that, but that's nonetheless how I feel.”
Take a look at more photos from the event below.