2018 is the summer of Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood

LENOX — Leonard Bernstein liked to do things in a grand manner, and Tanglewood will celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth next summer with a blast of his music befitting his outsize personality and feats as a composer, conductor, educator, worldwide presence and Tanglewood god.

The season-long tribute, announced today, culminates on the actual birth date, Aug. 25, with a Boston Symphony Orchestra gala featuring Broadway star Audra McDonald as host, with six conductors, seven classical music soloists, two other Broadway vocalists and representatives from three outside orchestras and two other music festivals, most of these personally associated with Bernstein. Repertoire will feature excerpts from major Bernstein works plus other composers' music beloved by him.

"Bernstein Centennial Summer — Celebrating Lenny at Tanglewood!" the season is titled. The 13 major Bernstein works to be performed, in addition to the gala selections, make up probably the biggest concentrated tribute in the worldwide Bernstein centennial celebrations.

Six Broadway shows by Bernstein — all staged, danced or shown on film — are on the schedule. BSO and Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra programs will also feature works associated with the master. Related events will include exhibits, a colloquium, a family concert inspired by Bernstein's Young People's Concerts, and dedication of a bust of Serge Koussevitzky, Tanglewood's founder and Bernstein's mentor.

"The overall goal in planning the Bernstein celebration was to offer as comprehensive an overview of LB's music as we could, with something of an emphasis on the theater works — of which (amazingly) we've been able to schedule six, including the new version of [the opera] `A Quiet Place,'" BSO artistic administrator Anthony Fogg said in an email.

None of the three symphonies is to be performed, but the purely concert works, including "Chichester Psalms," "Serenade" for violin and orchestra, "Songfest" and "Halil," represent "a good cross-section of periods," he added.

"I'm also quite chuffed by how much of the standard repertoire which Bernstein conducted regularly and championed we've been able to feature in the Tanglewood programs, generally. We're not aiming for comparisons with Bernstein's own interpretations of this piece or that, but rather I hope that this programming approach will give audiences a chance to think about Bernstein's original works in the context of the standard literature which he clearly considered to be so important."

BSO music director Andris Nelsons, who will be in residence five of the eight weeks — one more than last year — will conduct five Bernstein works. He'll lead the annual Leonard Bernstein Memorial Concert with the TMC Orchestra and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. The program will include a new work by John Williams in honor of the centennial. In turn, Williams will be honored with a Tanglewood medal.

In other major BSO programming, Nelsons will conduct a semi-staged performance of Puccini's "La Boh me," with Kristine Opolais and Piotr Beczala as Mimi and Rodolfo. James Taylor and his All-Star Band will give back-to-back concerts July 3 and 4, and the radio shows "A Prairie Home Companion" and "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me!" return. Other Popular Artists programs will be announced later.

Bernstein's career began and ended at Tanglewood. Born in Lawrence to a distributor of women's beauty supplies and his wife, the future conductor-celebrity was in the first class at the Tanglewood (then Berkshire) Music Center, in 1940. For the next 50 years, he returned to Tanglewood most summers, typically for two weeks, to conduct, teach and generally dominate proceedings with his magnetic presence.

Gravely ill, he led his last concerts anywhere with the TMC Orchestra and BSO in 1990. He died six weeks later.

Before Koussevitzky's retirement as BSO director in 1949, he anointed Bernstein as his successor, but the trustees went for a Frenchman, Charles Munch. Bernstein went on to an 11-year tenure as director of the New York Philharmonic (which is just now completing a three-week Bernstein retrospective) and a globe-trotting and sometimes controversial career as conductor, composer and social activist.

"Long a national figure, he had become an international presence, and indeed one of the best-known classical musicians in the world, thanks to more than two hundred recordings with the Philharmonic, and more than fifty groundbreaking television programs introducing music to young people which helped, for a time, to create a more musical America," former Boston Globe music critic Richard Dyer writes in a commemorative booklet to be issued by the BSO.

During Nelsons' five weeks, he will conduct all or part of 13 concerts. Because of the many guest artists coming for the celebration, there are no major BSO debuts or premieres. Favorite returning guest artists include cellist Ma and pianists Emanuel Ax and Garrick Ohlsson.

Bernstein's theater works to be performed during the celebration are:

- "On the Town" (Boston Pops under Keith Lockhart, staged with Broadway singers);

- "West Side Story" (film presentation with BSO accompaniment led by David Newman);

- "Fancy Free" (danced by Boston Ballet with BSO under Nelsons);

- "Trouble In Tahiti" (semi-staged, instrumental ensemble under Charles Prince with Broadway vocalists Alexandra Silber and Shuler Hensley);

- "A Quiet Place" (TMC fellows, staged);

- "Candide" (The Knights, danced and staged).

"Facsimile" will be performed without its choreography by the TMC Orchestra.

Programming for the Aug. 25 gala is incomplete, Fogg said, but "the aim is to represent the various genres of Bernstein's compositions, as well as his influences as a conductor, champion of other composers, and as the inspiration and guide for several generations of musicians and listeners."

Participants in the gala, in addition to McDonald, Nelsons, the BSO and the TMC Orchestra, include conductors Keith Lockhart, John Williams, Christoph Eschenbach and Michael Tilson Thomas; classical music soloists Midori, Thomas Hampson, Isabel Leonard, Yo-Yo Ma and Susan Graham; Broadway vocalists Jessica Vosk and Tony Yazbeck, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. Other guest artists will represent the New York Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, and Pacific and Schleswig-Holstein festivals. Bernstein founded the two overseas festivals, modeling them on Tanglewood.

Elsewhere, works to be performed include two from Bernstein's 1990 final concerts: Copland's Symphony No. 3, which he led with the TMC Orchestra, and the Four Sea Interludes from Britten's opera "Peter Grimes," which he did in his faltering last concert with the BSO.

Both works are fraught with Tanglewood and world significance. The Copland symphony recalls Bernstein's close association with the then dean of American composers. Together with Koussevitzky, they made up Tanglewood's founding trinity. In 1946, the year the festival resumed after the war, Bernstein led music center students in the American premiere of "Grimes," one of the 20th century's great operas.                                   

The 2018 season closes on Aug. 26, the day after the gala, with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony conducted by Eschenbach. Besides being Tanglewood's traditional closer, the Ninth is the work Bernstein conducted in Berlin in 1989 to celebrate the fall of the east-west wall. In the "Ode to Joy," he memorably substituted "freiheit!" (freedom) for Beethoven's "freude!" (joy).


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