LIVE: Leonard Bernstein Centennial Celebration @ Tanglewood, 8/25/18 [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Barbara Waldinger
A sold-out crowd (both shed and lawn) at Tanglewood in Lenox paid homage to native son Leonard Bernstein on the centennial of his birth Saturday, August 25 (proclaimed Leonard Bernstein Day by Governor Charles D. Baker). The occasion was celebrated by a star-studded performance by such celebrities as host Audra McDonald, conductors Andris Nelsons (entering his fifth season as the BSO’s Music Director), Christoph Eschenbach, Keith Lockhart, Michael Tilson Thomas and John Williams, musicians Midori and Yo-Yo Ma, and New York Metropolitan Opera singers Susan Graham and Thomas Hampson. The program featured a selection of Bernstein’s own compositions in the first half, and favorites he conducted in the second, interspersed with video memories from his colleagues, family and friends.
When Bernstein was accepted as a conducting student to the Tanglewood Music Center in 1940 (first conceived as the Berkshire Music Center by Serge Koussevitzky), he began a remarkable 50-year association with this magical place he loved. In the early 1950s Bernstein was named head of the orchestra and conducting programs at Tanglewood, a position he maintained even while leading the New York Philharmonic. Koussevitzky considered Bernstein “to be the most outstanding and exceptionally endowed musician of the young generation in this country. Bernstein is an extraordinary conductor, a brilliant pianist, and a remarkably gifted composer.” His other mentor and lifelong friend, composer Aaron Copland, described Bernstein as “one of the most fabulously gifted musicians I’ve ever encountered.” After a week-long celebration in 1988 for Bernstein’s 70th birthday, the ailing conductor gave his final concert at Tanglewood on August 19, 1990, including Copland’s Third and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphonies.
His centennial, like the 70th birthday gala featuring many of the same luminaries, was a night to remember. The parking lots and the lawn were nearly filled two hours before the event, and a visit to the rest rooms required careful planning to navigate the lines As for the weather: Bernstein’s brother Burton commented that whenever Lenny conducted at Tanglewood, threatening skies cleared — with the exception of his final concert when, mirroring the pall occasioned by the maestro’s illness, the weather turned cold and rainy. Last Saturday night the weather was gorgeous, reinforcing Nelsons’ observation that Bernstein’s spirit still remains at Tanglewood.