A multi-year, international celebration of the late Leonard Bernstein builds to what would have been his 100th birthday August 25. As the official centennial approaches, we look back to revisit one of the composer’s most renowned pieces: the overture to his operetta Candide.
In the clip above, Bernstein leads the London Symphony Orchestra in a 1989 performance of the overture; in his conducting, the maestro is just as animated as the score itself. Note his jauntiness around the 2:32 mark, his gracious recognition of his own soaring melody at 3:05, and an expression that mirrors the familiar bounce of the “Glitter and Be Gay” refrain at 3:28.
The overture has taken on a life outside the operetta, becoming a concert staple for myriad symphonies, including the New York Philharmonic, which remained a presence in Bernstein’s career for nearly five decades. While the piece lifts from three motifs in the show, it also features its own, unique melodies and crescendos to a celebratory fanfare, drawing on comparisons to Rossini’s The Barber of Seville or William Tell overtures.
The two-year Bernstein at 100 celebration features several programs around the world dedicated to the composer, including various stagings of such musicals as Candide, West Side Story, On the Town, and Peter Pan. The Boston Symphony Orchestra will pay tribute to him at Tanglewood Music Center August 25 with a program featuring John Williams, Andris Nelsons, Keith Lockhart, Yo-Yo Ma, Audra McDonald, and Thomas Hampson.