Travel: Ten Must-Attend Celebrations Of Leonard Bernstein’s Centenary

There are different levels at which one can love Leonard Bernstein. There’s knowing all the lyrics to “Somewhere”; there’s devotion to his lesser-known works, like, say, the “Chichester Psalms”; then there’s throwing a two-year global festival in honor of the centennial of his birth.

While that centennial doesn’t arrive until August 25, the festivities already began this past October. There are, or have been, events everywhere from Finland to Iran to Malaysia. Should you be a Bernstein fan with the travel bug, here are 10 of the best Bernstein-inspired trips to embark on and attractions to seek out in 2018.

1) Volunteer in Puerto Rico

Bernstein’s best-known work is his magnificent musical “West Side Story.” While you’ll have plenty of opportu nities to see productions of that show, or hear selections from it, you can honor Bernstein’s commitment to activism by going to Puerto Rico to assist in efforts to rebuild following the devastation of Hurricane Maria. In “America,” one of the most famous songs in “West Side Story,” a group of Puerto Ricans in New York City sing about the various merits of each place; the greatest merit of all would be to help their home island on its path toward recovery.

2) Say “Kaddish” in Poland or Hungary

Bernstein’s Third Symphony, “Kaddish,” is beloved for its musical and emotional complexity. While it will receive springtime performances across Europe and the United States, it will have particular resonance in Hungary, a country where the Jewish population was decimated during the Holocaust and nationalist forces and anti-Semitism are once more on the rise. Yes, a visit to Hungary may be sobering; still, seeing the country in the context of “Kaddish” should prove rewarding to those seeking to connect with a lost heritage. “Kaddish” will be presented in Budapest on June 21, performed by the Hungarian National Philharmonic and National Choir and conducted by Zsolt Hamar.

3) Explore Bernstein’s long attachment to Israel

Bernstein’s professional and personal ties to Israel spanned decades. He conducted the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, inaugurated Tel Aviv’s Mann Auditorium and played for Israeli troops during Israel’s War of Independence. On June 16 in Tel Aviv, the Israel Philharmonic will perform a concert in honor of Bernstein: “Life According to Lenny — Commemorating Leonard Bernstein’s 100th Birthday.” The concert will provide an opportunity to reflect on the ways in which Bernstein helped shape the young country’s cultural scene, and on the political shifts — for good and for ill — with which his work coincided.

4) Celebrate Bernstein’s birthday in style in New Mexico

Where better to spend what would have been Bernstein’s 100th birthday at the end of August than Santa Fe, where Bernstein founded the integrated arts-focused Academy of the Love of Learning? That evening, attend the final performance of the Santa Fe Opera’s take on Bernstein’s operetta “Candide.” (The run opens on June 29.) The Santa Fe Opera is a remarkable music venue, open on both sides to the desert that surrounds it; you may travel the world, but you’ll never find a superior place in which to meditate on the ways in which music is informed by the natural pulse of the outdoors.

5) Catch an all-Bernstein ballet program in London

London’s Royal Ballet premiered Liam Scarlett’s choreography of Bernstein’s second symphony, “The Age of Anxiety,” in 2014. In March, that ballet will accompany two world premiere works by Christopher Wheeldon and Wayne McGregor, each set to Bernstein scores. Wheeldon, who won a Tony Award for his choreography for the Broadway musical “An American in Paris,” is well regarded for narrative ballets, including “Alice in Wonderland.”

6) Immerse yourself in Bernstein’s underperformed masterpieces at Trinity Church

Starting in April, Manhattan’s Trinity Church Wall Street will present the program “TOTAL EMBRACE: Leonard Bernstein at 100.” Spotlighting Bernstein’s more infrequently performed repertoire alongside the output of composers and conductors from Gustav Mahler to Esa-Pekka Salonen, the series of weekly lunchtime concerts culminates in a weekend of free offerings, both matinees and evening performances, beginning on May 31. On the program is a selection from Bernstein’s “Dybbuk,” his “Four Anniversaries for the Piano,” “Kaddish” and works by Mahler, Salonen and Pierre Boulez, among others.

7) Experience Bernstein’s dedication to Mahler in Manhattan

On February 25, the New York Philharmonic will honor Bernstein’s love for Mahler by playing, beginning at 10 a.m., 13 hours of Bernstein’s recordings of Mahler’s complete symphonies. The free event, which will take place in the atrium of David Geffen Hall, will include live readings of words Bernstein wrote about his influential and tormented predecessor and, for true devotees, projected images of Bernstein’s own marked-up scores of Mahler’s music.

8) Book a last-minute trip to Japan for a tribute to Bernstein — in snow

The likelihood that you can make it to Japan for this year’s Sapporo Snow Festival is slim; the program runs February 5–12. If, for some reason, you’re able to travel at a moment’s notice, the festival, a branch of the Bernstein-founded Pacific Music Festival, will honor Bernstein’s centennial by making a sculpture of him out of snow and holding performances in front of it all week long.

9) Attend a daylong Bernstein festival in New York

Yes, a number of these attractions are in Manhattan. For much of Bernstein’s life, New York City was his home as well as the site of his most fruitful and long-standing creative partnerships. On May 19, Symphony Space will celebrate his life and work with eight hours of free events, including a partial staging of “Trouble in Tahiti,” dance performances set to Bernstein’s work, discussions of his legacy, some of which will feature members of his family, and performances of his chamber and choral music.

10) Visit Bernstein’s beloved Tanglewood

Tanglewood hosts the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer music festival and played an integral role in Bernstein’s career. At 22 years old, Bernstein participated in a conducting course affiliated with the festival. Serge Koussevitzky, who shortly afterward made Bernstein his assistant, led it. Bernstein conducted the last concert of his life at Tanglewood, a few months before his death in 1990; since that first course with Koussevitzky, Bernstein participated in the festival as a conductor and teacher in a near-annual ritual. In honor of Bernstein’s centennial, Tanglewood will arrange its 2018 season around his works as a composer and his greatest achievements as a conductor.

Correction, February 6, 11:15 a.m.: A previous version of this article recommended readers attend a March 28 performance of Bernstein’s “Kaddish” in Warsaw. That performance has been cancelled.

Author

Talya Zax

Talya Zax

Talya Zax is the Forward’s deputy culture editor. Contact her at zax@forward.com or on Twitter, @TalyaZax.

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