Andrew L. Pincus | Rambling about Tanglewood: Family time with Lenny

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LENOX — When we left Sam and Dinah, they had quarreled and maybe, sort of, made up. They were a young couple just starting out in the suburbs then.

Now, three decades later, Dinah has died in a car accident and the family has gathered for the funeral. The outcome is much the same: arguments, reconciliation and hope for the future.

It's family time in Tanglewood's Bernstein centenary celebration. His one-act opera "A Quiet Place," picking up the story of Sam and Dinah, will be staged Thursday, Aug. 9, and the re-creation of one of his Young People's Concerts, for children and families, follows on Friday.

Tanglewood Music Center students will perform "A Quiet Place," the sequel to "Trouble in Tahiti," performed earlier in the season by a professional cast and orchestra. In the pairing of autobiographical operas, Sam and Dinah are stand-ins for Bernstein's immigrant parents. Where "Tahiti," with its Broadway-influenced score, is both a family drama and a satire on post-World War II suburban life, "Quiet Place" is an essay in "pathos and pain," according to Stefan Asbury, who will conduct.

The family is "completely dysfunctional," says Asbury, who has conducted "Tahiti" but is doing "Quiet Place" for the first time. Though Bernstein's writing in the later opera is "quite visceral and violent," he adds, "the music actually is gorgeous. I've really fallen in love with the music."

For a more upbeat take on Bernstein and families, Andris Nelsons on Friday night will lead the Boston Symphony Orchestra in a Young People's Concert patterned on those Bernstein did with the New York Philharmonic from 1958 to 1972. Hosted by Bernstein's daughter Jamie Bernstein, the event is titled "Why Music Matters - According to Ludwig and Lenny." That would be Beethoven, of course and Lenny himself, each represented by excerpts from some of their best-known works.

Children of all ages are allowed in the Shed with a ticket. Free children's tickets are available for the lawn.

Asbury is head of the TMC conducting program. He was one of the conducting students in Bernstein's last Tanglewood summer, 1990, just weeks before his death.

Bernstein was "tired and sick" and skipped some rehearsals, Asbury recalled in an interview. "I'm jealous of people that came even as recently as two years before, because he was a much more vital force."

Sick as he was, the insomniac Bernstein still partied with composition and conducting students till 3 in the morning, Asbury remembers. But Asbury considers it an honor that he got to conduct during the first half of Bernstein's final TMC Orchestra concert that summer. Before Bernstein conducted Copland's Symphony No. 3 in a tribute to his longtime friend and colleague, Asbury did Berlioz' "Roman Carnival" Overture and Ravel's Concerto for Piano, left hand, with then TMC director Leon Fleisher as soloist.

In real life, Leonard Bernstein was an adoring but difficult father, Jamie Bernstein recalls in her newly published memoir, "Famous Father Girl." Their home, with loud parties lasting well into the night, was anything but a quiet place. In both operas, a quiet place is what Sam and Dinah yearn for.

The other principals who gather for the funeral in "A Quiet Place" are Sam and Dinah's estranged son Junior, daughter Dede and her husband Francois, who is Junior's former boyfriend. Old quarrels and jealousies are reignited.

"A Quiet Place" will be performed in a slimmed-down version for chamber orchestra by Garth Edwin Sunderland. At the 1983 premiere in Houston, on a double bill with "Tahiti," the large orchestra included a synthesizer and electric guitar. They sound dated now, Asbury says, and have been cut from the current version.

The production, likewise, will not be as elaborate as the original. Limited by the Ozawa Hall facilities, the opera will be "as fully staged as you can get on a concert stage," Asbury says.

There is no plan to use amplification for voices as in the often unintelligible "Tahiti" production, says Asbury, who describes amplification as an "unnatural art" that forces orchestras to play too loud. The plan for "Quiet Place" is to use subtitles instead.

The two operas are sometimes performed as one, with scenes from "Tahiti" spliced into "Quiet Place" as flashbacks. Asbury says the long version would add 45 minutes to running time and be too much for students who are here for only eight weeks and need up to three weeks just to prepare one opera. As it is, he adds, the cast has done an impressive job of memorizing lines that are conversational and rhythmically irregular.

Where Bernstein is concerned, Tanglewood this summer is definitely not a quiet place.

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