Three Concerts, Two Coasts, One Super Weekend
By Jamie Bernstein - Classical.org
February 12, 2018
Getting from New York City to Philadelphia is a breeze. In a little over an hour, the train pulled into beautiful, be-vaulted 30th St. Station.
I settled into my hotel room, directly opposite the clock tower atop Philadelphia’s famously beautiful City Hall. From my window perch on the 10th floor, I could have contemplated the ornamentation and sculpture for hours! But, I had a date with my young friend Juliana to grab an early tapas dinner (they have great food in Philly) and then bustle the few blocks in the freezing wind to Verizon Hall to catch the Philly Pops concert, which was devoted entirely to a celebration of Bernstein at 100.
The conductor was our longtime pal David Abell, who worked with our dad back in the day and has been a lifelong Leonard Bernstein (LB) booster. (He was fresh off the plane from having conducted “Songfest” in London the week before.)
Abell conducted most sensitively, was an amusing and dapper host, and had an excellent lineup of singers (including my beloved and gifted mezzo pal, Lisa Vroman), plus an enormous chorus, which came in very handy on that mother of all finales, “Make Our Garden Grow.”
I wish I’d had more time the next morning to admire the clock tower in the cold crisp morning light, but I had to scurry back to Verizon Hall for my rehearsal with the Philadelphia Orchestra and then, at 11:30, the maiden voyage of my new family concert, which I’d designed with Michael Barrett: “Bernstein at 100: Forever Young.”
My narration highlights the youthful spirit of my dad’s music, and the music itself was all from early in his career. In addition, several pieces that featured a soloist were performed by young musicians attending the Curtis Institute, which LB himself had attended at the age of 22.
The four young soloists were wonderful, and maestro Kensho Watanabe — himself barely scraping 30 — steered the rehearsal and concert brilliantly. (It takes an orchestra the caliber of the Philly Orchestra to pull off this quite challenging music with barely 90 minutes’ rehearsal, an hour before the performance.)
Because the Super Bowl was the very next day, we inserted the Eagles Fight Song in the middle of the concert; the crowd went nuts, of course. It was clear that the entire city of Philadelphia could barely keep its collective mind on anything else.
Even so: the concert was a great success! Everyone loved it — including the orchestra members: always the highest of compliments. While greeting attendees afterward in the lobby, I was impressed again by the number of parents and grandparents who told me they’d brought their kids to the concert because they themselves had watched the televised Young People’s Concerts back in the day.
Then it was off in the freezing cold to Philadelphia Airport, to catch my flight to LA. The plane turned out to be blissfully empty, and I had three seats to myself. (These little gifts are so precious.) I soon found myself in a golden world of flowering trees and perfect temperatures: spring in LA.
I felt intoxicated, just walking down the block in shirtsleeves.
The trip to LA was short, and for one grand purpose: to catch Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic’s final performance of LB’s Mass.
Jamie Bernstein and Maestro Dudamel at the LA Philharmonic’s final performance of Bernstein’s Mass. (Credit: Courtesy of The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc.)
Maestro Dudamel loves Bernstein music: really gets it on a deep level. My siblings and I have been sure for years that when he finally got around to it, he would knock Mass out of the park.
During dinner afterward, my friends and I were tracking the Super Bowl score. When the Eagles won, I could only imagine the pandemonium in the town I’d been in 24 hours earlier.
Early the next morning, I was back to LAX for the return trip to New York City, reflecting on the amazing weekend of music making in Philly and LA, and thinking of the busy weeks ahead: a youth orchestra concert in Chicago; a concert with Washington Performing Arts; a symposium in Colorado Springs followed by concerts in Scottsdale; concerts in Memphis; and… Bernstein at 100 rolls on!