[Voice Magazine] Celebrating Leonard Bernstein and the Great American Songbook
By Daniel Kepl, Voice Magazine
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It's not often the worlds of music, dance, and theater come together as one to celebrate the life and art of a single person. All around the globe 2018 is the Leonard Bernstein year, marking the composer’s 100th birthday with performances of his music for the concert and Broadway stages in cities large and small.
The Santa Barbara Symphony’s pair of concerts at the Granada Theatre this weekend on Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm will salute Bernstein’s music, while also honoring his passion for new music with the world premiere of local composer Robin Frost’s Piano Concerto, featuring the orchestra’s house pianist, Natasha Kislenko.
Music and Artistic Director Nir Kabaretti has invited the Santa Barbara Choral Society to join forces with the Symphony, together with guest artist international opera and Broadway soprano Lisa Vroman, for the main course, selections from Bernstein’s Fancy Free, Candide, Mass, and West Side Story. Also on the program is an homage to the father of twentieth century American music, Aaron Copland. His Quiet City will spotlight Symphony Principal Trumpet Jon Lewis and Sarah Beck, English horn.
“For the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein, I wanted to feature music that will reflect the musical world of this genius,” maestro Kabaretti shared with VOICE during an interview, “a mix of music that Bernstein wrote for Broadway, for ballet, for film, and for the concert hall.”
One of the first crossover artists long before there was such a concept, Bernstein’s unique stature in the pantheon of history’s musical geniuses rests firmly on his often revolutionary, always creative achievements in several genres. West Side Story alone transformed the possibility and power of musical theater; his lectures and television presentations to young people about classical music helped explain the art form to a generation of Americans in a way that could be understood by everyone; and his inspiring social activism reminded artists everywhere then, as now, inaction is intolerable. Bernstein’s music has attracted fans worldwide including Kabaretti, who met the composer/conductor at a crucial turning point in his own career.
“Bernstein was indeed very inspiring for many generations of musicians and audiences, especially in appreciation of American music and music education,” Kabaretti confirmed. “Many of our audience today in America were kids who grew up on his televised concerts for young people. As a champion of American music, his role in expanding this music overseas was incomparable. More than anything, I admire his versatility. He was a pioneer of performing the most complicated contemporary American music while at the same time, writing some of the most renowned music for Broadway and film - bringing each genre of music to the highest level.”
Presenting a new composition to the public is always a toss of the popularity dice. For those on stage, preparing a major work like Robin Frost’s new Piano Concerto is also tricky on many levels. “A world premier is more challenging, because you don’t have any references that can facilitate the learning process,” Kabaretti explained. “Natasha [Kislenko] does a wonderful job. She learned the piano score from a hand-written copy! We met together a few weeks prior to the orchestra rehearsals to be on the same page, interpretively. The piece is beautiful and very accessible. While it is contemporary music, it has a clear romantic touch, rich in tunes and harmonies. The structure is traditional with three movements. I am sure the audience will enjoy it. I chose 'Quiet City' as a reflection of the personal and professional relationship Aaron Copland had with Bernstein.”
The Santa Barbara Choral Society and soprano Lisa Vroman will join the Symphony for an overview of Bernstein’s wide-ranging compositional styles, performing excerpts from Fancy Free, Candide, Mass, and West Side Story. “Bernstein was a legend already in his lifetime,” Kabaretti shared. “As a student I was fortunate to meet him briefly in Tel Aviv and listened to his rehearsals with the Israel Philharmonic shortly before he died. A few years later I was awarded a scholarship in his name which was very symbolic to me. Needless to say, at the time I met him I had absolutely no idea that I would ever have an orchestra in America and conduct his music.”