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Pacific Symphony Music Director Carl St.Clair pays tribute to his greatest mentor, Leonard Bernstein, with four concerts dedicated to his most significant works

Orange County, Calif. — January 09, 2015

Pacific Symphony Music Director Carl St.Clair pays tribute to his greatest mentor, Leonard Bernstein, with four concerts dedicated to his most significant works

 

 “For the Love of Bernstein,” part of the “Music Unwound” series, features special guest host Jamie Bernstein, pianist Benjamin Pasternack and soprano Dawn Upshaw

 

St.Clair dives deeper into the life and works of Bernstein during Sunday Casual Connections concert, “The Bernstein Legacy,” which features “The Age of Anxiety," “Slava! A Political Overture” and the Overture to “Candide”

Composer, conductor and teacher Leonard Bernstein, one of the undeniable giants of 20th-century music, and the first American-born conductor to become a major star, becomes the focal point of Pacific Symphony’s second “Music Unwound” concert this season, “For the Love of Bernstein.” In 1985, a young Carl St.Clair met Bernstein as a conducting fellow at Tanglewood Music Center. A few years later in 1990, St.Clair stepped in for the ailing maestro and conducted his “Arias and Barcarolles” during what turned out to be Bernstein’s last concert. St.Clair would soon be named music director of Pacific Symphony, but the impact of Bernstein’s mentoring to St.Clair has remained to this day.

Together with other artists who have been privileged to work with the fabled conductor, St.Clair—who is celebrating his 25th anniversary season with Pacific Symphony—offers a heartfelt tribute to the man he calls the greatest influence on his musical life. “For the Love of Bernstein” includes a multitude of Bernstein’s best music including his Symphony No. 2, “The Age of Anxiety”; “Slava! A Political Overture”; “Somewhere” from “West Side Story”; Overture to “Candide”; selections from “Three Dance Episodes” from “On the Town,” “Arias and Barcarolles,” “Trouble in Tahiti” and “Wonderful Town.”

The concert takes place Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 29-31, at 8 p.m. in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall; a preview talk with Alan Chapman begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25-$99. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit PacificSymphony.org.

“For the Love of Bernstein” features pianist Benjamin Pasternack, illustrious American soprano Dawn Upshaw and special guest host Jamie Bernstein, the daughter of Mr. Bernstein. “Prelude (Doa Day Trio)” from “Trouble in Tahiti” is performed by three vocal students from Chapman University: mezzo-soprano Erin Theodorakis, tenor Marcus Paige and baritone Elliott Wulff. This program is part of “Music Unwound,” a series of three concerts with enhancements underwritten by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that delivers new innovative formats and thematic programming as part of the concert experience.

The second Sunday Casual Connections concert of the season, “The Bernstein Legacy,” takes place Sunday, Feb. 1 at 3 p.m., and features a deeper exploration of Leonard Bernstein and his music with “The Age of Anxiety,” featuring Pasternack as piano soloist; “Slava!; A Political Overture”; and the Overture to “Candide.” Tickets are $25-$95.

 

Leonard Bernstein: The Man

There’s never been anyone quite like Leonard Bernstein, who burst into prominence in November 1943, when he was only 25, leading the New York Philharmonic on a few hours’ notice in a concert that made headlines. Bernstein possessed an extraordinary combination of impassioned musical creativity and personal charisma, a restless intellect that looked deeply into other arts as well as music, and a commitment to social justice. He believed that music could improve the world as well as entertain. Bernstein succeeded in bridging the gap between popular and high culture in the U.S. as nobody else had done.

Born in Lawrence, Mass., Bernstein took piano lessons as a boy and attended the Garrison and Boston Latin schools. At Harvard University he studied with Walter Piston, Edward Burlingame-Hill and A. Tillman Merritt. He was appointed assistant conductor at the New York Philharmonic at age 25, shortly before the fateful 1943 concert that launched his fame. Stepping in for the ailing Bruno Walter, he led the orchestra in a galvanic performance that was nationally broadcast on the radio from Carnegie Hall. Soon orchestras worldwide sought him out as a guest conductor. He became music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1958. During his tenure, which lasted through 1969, he led more concerts with the orchestra than did any previous conductor.

Bernstein’s genius spanned many categories and styles, including operas, symphonies and theater music. He gained additional fame as a music lecturer and teacher with his television show “Young People’s Concerts.” He died in 1990, but his legacy lives on, particularly with those he influenced firsthand, including Maestro St.Clair.

 

Carl St.Clair’s Greatest Mentor

“In the summer of 1985, I was selected to be a conducting fellow at Tanglewood,” explains St.Clair. “To be included in this group was a huge honor. Bernstein himself was a fellow, Sezji Ozawa was a fellow, Claudio Abbado, Michael Tilson Thomas as well. It’s a fairly illustrious group of people, and it was a distinction and honor to be asked. Bernstein hadn’t been at Tanglewood for the previous two summers, and 1985 marked his return. It was exciting for all of us. I will never forget the day he walked in. I expected a 10-foot tall conductor, a great maestro of incredible stature, and one of the first things he said was, ‘Where’s my cowboy from Texas?’ He had read our bios, and was very happy to meet me because he hadn’t met a conductor from Texas. That’s how he coined the pet name of ‘Cowboy’ for me. That was the beginning.”

“The first day we worked on the second symphony of Beethoven,” recalls St.Clair. “I thought I really knew it and three hours later we had gotten as far as measure five. You were completely and totally spellbound by his knowledge and his positive attitude, how he helped people. To see music through his eyes really changed my vision about the world of classical music. It was a great gift and set me out on a whole different path. My musical journey changed immediately.”

 

Musical Tribute to Leonard Bernstein

St.Clair has programmed selections from Bernstein’s musical catalog that have deep personal meaning for him.

St.Clair’s good friend, Benjamin Pasternack, who won the highest prize awarded at the 40th Busoni International Piano Competition in 1988, joins Pacific Symphony for Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2, “The Age of Anxiety.” Pasternack, a frequent guest of the Symphony, was also part of St.Clair’s 20th anniversary season.

“Both Ben and I won’t really do the symphony with anyone else,” notes St.Clair. “He and I worked with Bernstein so closely, if I work with anyone else but Ben I feel like I’m cheating. ‘The Age of Anxiety,’ I feel, and Ben feels, and Mr. Bernstein felt, didn’t get the attention it deserved. Like everything else of his, it’s complicated, autobiographical and poetic. Bernstein wrote poetry every day. It’s crucial that it’s on the program.”

Bernstein reserved the symphonic form for some of his deepest musical explorations of spiritual ideas. He composed his Symphony No. 2, subtitled “The Age of Anxiety,” in 1948-49. The symphony is scored for orchestra and solo piano, and was inspired by W. H. Auden’s poem of the same name, published in 1947. It is a long, serious poem that uses narrative including four characters to develop his thematic confrontation with modernity. The poem enthralled Bernstein, who was an ardent admirer of Auden’s work.

Among the most experienced and versatile musicians today, American pianist Pasternack has performed as soloist, recitalist and chamber musician on four continents. His orchestral engagements have included appearances as soloist with Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec, the Tonhalle Orchestra of Zurich, the New Japan Philharmonic and countless others. Among the many illustrious conductors with whom he has collaborated are Seiji Ozawa, Erich Leinsdorf, David Zinman, Gunther Schulle and Leon Fleisher. He has performed as soloist with the Boston Symphony on more than a score of occasions, at concerts in Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, on their European tour of 1991 and on their South American tour of 1992. He has been guest artist at the Tanglewood Music Center, the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, the Seattle Chamber Music Festival, the Minnesota Orchestra Sommerfest, the Festival de Capuchos in Portugal and the Festival de Menton in France.

St.Clair selected a number of shorter pieces to fill the rest of the concert that highlight Bernstein’s versatility—he was a composer equally at home writing musicals as he was composing overtures and arias.

Bernstein’s work on Broadway was a series of great collaborations that started with “On the Town,” a wartime romantic comedy about three sailors with 24-hour shore leave in New York City. Composed in 1944, it was Bernstein’s first composition for Broadway. He chose three of the show’s dance episodes for use as a concert suite. The Symphony is performing the first two: Dance of the Great Lover (from the “Dream” ballet) and Pas de Deux (from the “Lonely Town” ballet). These episodes, like all of Bernstein’s dance music for Broadway, rise to a level of orchestral complexity and dynamism that was previously unknown in dance music for Broadway.

“Slava! A Political Overture” was composed in 1977 as a birthday tribute to Bernstein’s friend and colleague, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, whose nickname was Slava (slava is also Russian for glory). The two became friends in the post-World War II era, when they both used their fame and international standing to promote human values and their music as a means of political expression. Bernstein’s commission for this work marked Rotropovich’s first season as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in 1977, and Slava himself conducted the premiere.

Two selections from the song cycle “Arias and Barcarolles” feature soprano Dawn Upshaw, who sang many of Bernstein’s songs. Composed for piano and two voices, “Arias and Barcarolles” is comprised of eight songs, ranging from a children’s bedtime story and a wedding present for his daughter to personal tributes for his mother.

Upshaw has achieved worldwide celebrity as a singer of opera and concert repertoire ranging from the sacred works of Bach to the freshest sounds of today. Her ability to reach to the heart of music has earned her both the devotion of an exceptionally diverse audience, and the awards and distinctions accorded to only the most distinguished of artists, including four Grammy Awards. In 2007, she was named a fellow of the MacArthur Foundation, the first vocalist to be awarded the five-year “genius” prize, and in 2008 she was named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

She began her career in 1984 at the Metropolitan Opera, where she has since made nearly 300 appearances. Upshaw is artistic director of the vocal arts program at the Bard College Conservatory of Music and a faculty member of the Tanglewood Music Center.

Bernstein’s one-act opera “Trouble in Tahiti” has been called both frothy and formidable. It’s composed of rhyming couplets that are deft parodies of the advertising jingles of the day. Beneath the humor, “Trouble in Tahiti” looks at the American dream of the Eisenhower era and life in the suburbs. The Dao Day Trio is sung by Theodorakis, Paige and Wulff, while the “Scene 6” song is performed by Upshaw.

The delightful Broadway musical “Wonderful Town” is from 1952, and is based on the experiences of author Ruth McKenney as a young woman living on a shoestring and looking for work and love in New York’s Greenwich Village, where she moved from Ohio. The team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green wrote the lyrics for “Wonderful Town.” Upshaw sings “A Little Bit in Love” from “Wonderful Town.”

The groundbreaking musical “West Side Story” is deeply ingrained in our national culture. This adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” combined Bernstein’s immortal score, the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, and the choreography and direction of Jerome Robbins. It opened on Broadway in 1957, was turned into a 1961 film version that won 10 Academy Awards, and has been produced around the world in countless touring versions, revivals and high school productions. “Somewhere” (also known as “There’s a Place for Us”), sung here by Upshaw, comes in Act 2 during the dream ballet section between the two main characters.

The concert ends with the Overture to “Candide,” a musical that Bernstein was working on concurrently with “West Side Story.” This 1956 work has been called a musical, an operetta and an opera. It’s vocally demanding, perhaps most famously in “Glitter and Be Gay,” a parody of a coloratura aria that is full of vocal pyrotechnics. The Overture is one of the most frequently performed Broadway works in concert halls.

Special Guest Host Jamie Bernstein

Serving as host for the concert is Leonard Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie Bernstein, a narrator, writer and broadcaster who has transformed a lifetime of loving music into a career of sharing her knowledge and excitement with others.

Bernstein grew up in an atmosphere bursting with music, theater and literature. Her parents created a spontaneous, ebullient household that turned Jamie into a lifelong cultural enthusiast. Replicating her father’s compulsion to share and teach, she has devised several ways of communicating her own excitement about classical music. In addition to “The Bernstein Beat,” a family concert about her father modeled after his own groundbreaking Young People’s Concerts, she has also written and narrated concerts about Mozart and Aaron Copland, among others. Bernstein travels the world as a concert narrator, appearing everywhere from Beijing to Caracas to Vancouver. In addition to her own scripted narrations, Bernstein also performs standard concert narrations, such as Walton’s “Façade,” Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait” and her father’s Symphony No. 3, “Kaddish.” She is a frequent speaker on musical topics, including in-depth discussions of her father’s works.

The Symphony’s Classical series performances are made possible by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation, with additional support from Mercedes-Benz, the official vehicle; the Avenue of the Arts Wyndham Hotel; KUSC; and PBS SoCal. Sunday Casual Connections receives support from KPCC. This weekend’s concerts are underwritten by the Shanbrom Family Foundation. The Thursday night performance is sponsored by the Board of Counselors and the Friday night performance is sponsored by Jane and Richard Taylor.