Bernstein at 100 - The Centennial Celebration at Tanglewood
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Overture from Candide (1956)
Phaedrus; Pausanias Lento-Allegro from Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium) for violin and orchestra (1954)
Kaddish 2 from Symphony No. 3, Kaddish (1963)
Meditation No. 3 for cello and orchestra from Mass (1977)
Selections from West Side Story (1957)
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Der Schildwache Nachtlied from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1905)
Finale from Symphony No. 2, Resurrection (1888-94)
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Finale from Appalachian Spring (1943-44 ballet; 1945 suite)
John Williams (b. 1932)
Highwood’s Ghost, An Encounter for Harp, Cello and Orchestra (2018)
Yo-Yo Ma (cello)
Thomas Hampson (baritone)
Susan Graham (mezzo)
Tanglewood Festival Chorus
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons; Christoph Eschenbach; Keith Lockhart; Michael Tilson Thomas; John Williams
rec. live, 25 August 2018, live at Tanglewood, USA
Picture Format: 1080i - High Definition - 16.9 - All Regions
Sound formats: PCM Stereo, DTS-HD and MA 5.1
Bonus film: Full Circle: Leonard Bernstein and Tanglewood
C MAJOR Blu-ray 747704 [141 mins]
The present Blu-ray is a filming of the concert at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts, meaning the gala performance of Leonard Bernstein’s music on the day of his 100th birthday – 25th August 2018 – were he still alive. And what a magnificent celebration and loving tribute this is with a who’s who in the music world. The Boston Symphony Orchestra does the honours and is joined by members of the New York Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, Pacific Music Festival and Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, all of them orchestras that Bernstein worked with, contributed to and supported during his life time.
The concert opens with the Overture to Candide – Bernstein’s comic operetta from 1956 based on Voltaire’s novella of the same name – conducted by Andris Nelsons, currently the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Gewandhauskappelmeister of the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. The Overture to Candide is a rather delightful piece, with some unforgettable tunes, based largely on three of its most recognisable numbers; ideal therefore to begin a celebration of Bernstein’s music. It was performed with the quality one has come to expect from the BSO and with obvious enthusiasm by all the musicians involved. Following it, we have the first movement from Bernstein’s Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium) for violin and orchestra performed by Midori with the BSO conducted by Christoph Eschenbach who also conducts the fourth work Meditation No. 3 for cello and orchestra from Mass. Mass was commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy for the opening of the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC in 1971. After that, in 1977, Bernstein created the Three Meditations from Mass for cello and orchestra, especially for his friend Mstislav Rostropovich. It is beautifully played here by Kian Soltani, a young Austrian cellist, winner of the 2017 Bernstein Award of the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival. Before this, there is Kaddish 2, the middle movement, from Bernstein’s Symphony No. 3, Kaddish, featuring a solo from the extraordinary American soprano Nadine Sierra, with Keith Lockhart on the podium. Sierra’s musicality, seamless technique and purity of tone are remarkable. Although Kaddish isn’t one of my favourite Bernstein’s compositions, Ms Sierra’s singing is simply gorgeous, and I found myself wishing she wouldn’t stop. We then have a selection from West Side Story, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas with Women of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and an array of excellent vocalists, especially Tony Yazbeck as Tony and the outstanding Isabel Leonard as Maria. She lends her lustrous, clear mezzo to the character and delivers a tender, moving rendition of the songs, making them look easy to perform. Isabel Leonard appears here as a vocalist and seems as comfortable with the microphone as she is without it in her opera repertoire. She has appeared in some of the greatest opera houses of the world, including the Met in New York where I’ve seen her as Dorabella in Mozart’s Cosė fan tutte (one of her signature roles).
The first half of the concert is filled, as described above, with works by Bernstein but the second half features works by other composers close to his heart as a performer, namely Gustav Mahler and Aaron Copland, who was Bernstein’s mentor in his early years at Tanglewood. The Finale for Copland’s ballet music Appalachian Spring is conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas and the BSO delivers a heartfelt, beautiful and precise rendition of the work. There are two pieces by Mahler. The first Der Schildwache Nachtlied from Das Knaben Wunderhorn is conducted by Andris Nelsons and sung by the magnificent Thomas Hampson, almost a legend nowadays. He demonstrates an excellent reading of the composer’s music and delivers the piece with his customary elegance and refined phrasing, with a near-perfect German pronunciation, subtle restrain and outstanding technique. Hampson’s tone is exquisite and warm, dramatically expressive and if anything, like a good wine, he seems to improve with age.
The first Mahler piece is followed by a new piece by John Williams Highwood Ghost, An Encounter for Harp, Cello and Orchestra, premiered before this concert on 19th August 2018. The piece is named after Highwood House, one of the grand old houses of the Tanglewood campus and that is “visited” by a ghost, according to John Williams’s own words, “…I well remember one night, as Lenny [Leonard Bernstein] was making his way up the first stairwell, exclaiming ‘This place is haunted!’...” It is a moving, uplifting tribute, suitably haunting at times, with the unusual combination of cello and harp, written for and performed by the outstanding Yo-Yo Ma and the magnificent Jessica Zhou respectively.
The second Mahler piece is a rendition of the finale from Gustav Mahler’s grandiose Symphony No. 2, known as Resurrection. Andris Nelsons conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in a lavish, rather excellent performance of what is a striking, powerful piece. Lending a touch of class, Nadine Sierra returns as one of the soloists and is joined by Susan Graham. Sierra’s luminous soprano harmonises superbly with Graham’s slightly dusky mezzo, soaring above the orchestra and chorus in an ultimately exceptional, moving and outstanding performance. This is the end of the concert but, naturally, no self-respecting special gala would finish without at least one encore, which here is the beautiful Somewhere from West Side Story. Audra McDonald, the host, in very fine voice, leads the whole ensemble of singers joined by everyone else who participated in the concert, be it instrumentalists, vocalists, opera singers or conductors. It ends a great celebratory concert in a positive note, a suitable, spirited 100th birthday party for the lively, energetic and exuberant artist that was Leonard Bernstein.
The booklet notes, in English and German, make a very good, enjoyable and informative reading about Bernstein’s career and music, his musical influences and some of his great friends like Aaron Copland and John Williams. The listing of the pieces in the programme, as well as soloists and conductors, is complemented with a detailed list of all the musicians of the BSO and members of the other orchestras performing with them here.
The Blu-ray also includes a short bonus film entitled Full Circle: Leonard Bernstein and Tanglewood, which traces his connection with and work at Tanglewood from its beginnings (Bernstein participated in the inaugural class of the centre, where Copland was then head of the composition faculty) to his penultimate performance ever in August 1990 where he conducted Copland’s Third Symphony. Bernstein died just a couple of months later in October 1990, at the age of seventy-two. Additionally, there is a brief film called Video Greetings, with greetings, as the name indicates, from people that either had the privilege of calling Bernstein their friend, studied with or were inspired by him, including Yo-Yo Ma, Marin Alsop, Michael Tilson Thomas, Gustavo Dudamel, Stephen Sondheim and John Williams among others. Included here is also a little tribute from Bernstein’s daughter Jamie. She tells us that, as children, they didn’t realise how famous their father was until the day they were watching an episode of the cartoon series The Flintstones. In this the characters say they are going to a concert by Leonard “Bernstone”. A nice, funny and loving story that demonstrates how Bernstein managed to be popular with everyone. I thoroughly enjoyed this excellent tribute concert and to my mind, if you admire Bernstein and his music, this is definitely a Blu-ray you shouldn’t miss.
(Margarida writes more than just reviews, check it online at http://www.flowingprose.com/)
Full performer details
Audra McDonald (host); Midori (violin); Kian Soltani (cello); Jessica Zhou (harp); Yo-Yo Ma (cello); Nadine Sierra (soprano); Thomas Hampson (baritone); Susan Graham (mezzo); Isabelle Leonard (mezzo/vocalist), Tony Yazbeck (vocalist); Jessica Vosk (vocalist) and various other vocalists for West Side Story
Boston Symphony Orchestra with members of the New York Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, Pacific Music Festival and Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival/Andris Nelsons; Christoph Eschenbach; Keith Lockhart; Michael Tilson Thomas; John Williams
Tanglewood Festival Chorus/James Burton
James Darrah (stage director); Joshua Bergasse (choreographer), David Horn (film director)