CSO review: A vast exploration of Leonard Bernstein’s legacy over 2 nights

By Howard Reich - Chicago Tribune
July 28, 2019

It was a Lenny kind of weekend.

On Saturday night , conductor Marin Alsop led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and soloists at the Ravinia Festival in “Leonard Bernstein: Man for All Music,” an aptly titled celebration of a singular American musician.

On Friday night at Ravinia, Alsop presided over a CSO performance of Mahler’s epic Symphony No. 8, “Symphony of a Thousand,” penned by a composer Bernstein championed passionately (then, again, what didn’t he do passionately?).

Combine those two massive concerts, and you had a sweeping portrait of Bernstein as composer, conductor, pianist, educator, social activist and lifelong humanist, a globally celebrated musician who nevertheless gave the world more than has yet been fully understood.

Though Bernstein remains a legendary figure who died in 1990 at age 72, the man behind the mystique shone through lucidly on Saturday evening, thanks in large part to the narration of Jamie Bernstein, his daughter. Such onstage recitations often range from ponderous to irritating, but Jamie Bernstein’s expertly crafted script – and exuberant delivery – took us inside the man’s life in exquisitely succinct fashion.

With carefully chosen words, Jamie Bernstein illuminated her father’s early struggles, stunning overnight success, perpetual conflicts between an extroverted personality and the solitary demands of a composer’s life, and much more. These soliloquies punctuated a stylistically wide-ranging program that evoked the breadth of Leonard Bernstein’s gifts.

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Jamie Bernstein