In August, legendary composer Leonard Bernstein would have been 100 years old.
Considered the first American superstar conductor, Bernstein was a master of composition, having written scores to “West Side Story,” “Candide” and “On the Waterfront.”
To kick off its 2018-19 season, the Saint Joseph Symphony will celebrate with “Happy 100th Birthday Mr. Bernstein,” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, at the Missouri Theater, 717 Edmond St.
The concert will run through some of Bernstein’s best work, from the “Overture to ‘Candide’” to “West Side Story’s” “Symphonic Dances.”
“It’s not all Bernstein, but boy, we’re hitting some highlights. It’s going to be a really exciting concert,” Rico McNeela, director for the Saint Joseph Symphony, says.
The pieces showcase Bernstein’s incredible ability to mix genres and musical heritages into natural, fully formed works.
“He had a remarkable ability to synthesize a wide variety of styles and bring together very disparate elements into a unified and thrilling work of art,” he says.
Directing the New York Philharmonic when he was 25, Bernstein brought in American influences and combined them with influences from his symphonic heroes.
“He works with jazz and blues and Latin music and just all sorts of popular dance forms,” McNeela says. “Timpanis are played with maracas. It’s a very unusual thing.”
Working through Bernstein’s pieces for the concert, the symphony had to work extra hard to get the eccentricities and nuances of his work down.
“He’s a tremendously demanding composer. They’re constantly changing meters and orchestration,” McNeela says.
The show will suspend the Bernstein theme for two pieces, as it features William Lane, a veteran of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Concerto No. 2 in E Flat Major for Horn (K. 417)” and “Castel del Monte” by Nino Rota.
“Rota is famous for, I think, over 150 film scores, including ‘The Godfather,’ ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ several for (director Federico) Fellini, including ‘La strada’ and ‘8 1/2,’” McNeela says. “When he writes for the classic concert stage, there’s a lot of that lyricism and tonal beauty.”
The entire concert has been an adventure and thrill for the symphony, as it brings new elements into the mix. It should be equally as fun for the audience.
“The orchestra has to speak at various points and snap their fingers. It’s a very, very interesting and, I think, enjoyable kind of playing that we don’t get to do often,” McNeela says. “You don’t get to snap your fingers often in a Beethoven symphony.”
Tickets for the concert are $5 to $45. It is open to all ages.
— Andrew Gaug | STJOELIVE STAFF