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Keeping Leonard Bernstein alive for the current generation

March 15, 2019
Jamie BernsteinJamie Bernstein, writer, broadcaster, and narrator, will discuss her father’s legacy as part of a series of events celebrating “Leonard Bernstein and American Musical Theater.” (Steve J. Sherman photo)

“Bernstein was a master of multiple media. He was not only the most famous conductor in America and a distinguished composer in his day, but he also was a genius at adapting his message to different audiences and particularly to television and to print,” says Joan Shelley Rubin, the Ani & Mark Gabrellian Director of the Humanities Center at the University of Rochester.

Three speakers will bring complementary perspectives on Leonard Bernstein in a series of events titled “Leonard Bernstein and American Musical Theater,” from March 20-23.

The series opens with a public lecture by Jamie Bernstein, writer, broadcaster, and narrator, who will discuss her father’s legacy and her memoir, Famous Father Girl: A Memoir on Growing up Bernstein (Harper Collins, 2018).

“It’s a pretty big deal that she’s coming to our campus,” says Rachel Waddell, director of orchestral activities for the music department in the School of Arts and Sciences. Waddell, who applied for the Humanities Project grant that funds Jamie Bernstein’s visit to Rochester, led a Bernstein Centennial Celebration with the University’s symphony orchestra last December featuring “Symphonic Dances” from the musical West Side Story as well as “Overture to Candide.” The performance included the chamber singers and vocalists from the Eastman School of Music and Eastman Community Music School. “It’s something special that our students, faculty, and the Rochester community will be able come for free to listen to her talk and to interact with her,” she says.

Jamie Bernstein will provide a unique and familial dimension to the series that includes a panel discussion on “Bernstein’s Broadway” with Lara Housez, a musicologist at McMaster University specializing in American musical theater in the era of Bernstein, Robbins, and Sondheim; and John Mauceri, an award-winning conductor and producer. Mauceri had an 18-year professional relationship with Leonard Bernstein which included serving as music director for Hal Prince’s production of Bernstein’s Candide in 1974 and conducting the American and European premiers of Bernstein’s A Quiet Place in 1984. Kim Kowalke, a professor of musicology at the University’s Eastman School and a professor of music in the School of Arts and Sciences, will moderate the discussion.

“Whether he was in an outdoor performance setting in a college stadium or on the new medium of television, he knew how to convey the beauty and significance of classical music to a wide variety of people,” says Rubin, whose current scholarship on print culture and the popularization of classical music in the mid-twentieth century gives her some insight into Bernstein’s contributions to American musical culture.

“When I returned from my research trip to the Bernstein archives, I asked a bunch of entering first year students if they had ever heard of Leonard Bernstein; and they said ‘no,’” says Rubin.

“I think it’s enormously important to keep his memory and accomplishments alive for the current generation of undergraduates. He was an important contributor to American musical culture, but also a representative of celebrity culture and an architect of new relationships between musical culture and the public.”

Other events include an afternoon lecture by John Mauceri on Wednesday, March 20. The program Old Friends: A 30-Year Reunion of the Musical Theater Workshop will feature alumni and performances of Bernstein’s music on Saturday, March 23.

The event is supported by a Humanities Project grant, Alumni Relations, and the Department of Music at the University of Rochester.

Schedule of events

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Category: The Arts