by Ann Greer
Leonard Bernstein at 100, a global, two-year celebration with more than 2,000 events on six continents, is well represented in Washington, DC. The inaugural event was held at the Kennedy Center in September 2017, and since then performances have followed there and elsewhere.
Bernstein (1918-1990) was a composer, conductor, author, and pianist, as well as the longtime music director the New York Philharmonic. He also was a social activist and outspoken leftist; Bernstein was blacklisted in the 1950s by the U.S. State Department. He hosted a famous party at his Manhattan apartment in the 1970s to raise money for the defense of several Black Panthers.
So far I have attended two Bernstein performances, which makes me feel like a slacker. In early May I went to the Washington National Opera’s production of “Candide,” which runs until May 26 at the Kennedy Center. From the opening bars, I was soaring with the music. Based on a story by Voltaire, and with the author embodied by an actor onstage, the musical is filled with satirical episodes demonstrating the fallacy of overweening optimism. The score is luscious, but for “Candide” to work best the production needs good acting, which for the most part was not in evidence.
Wynn Harmon, Edward Nelson, Alek Shrader, Emily Pogorelc, Eliza Bonet in WNO's Candide
photo by Scott Suchman
On May 20 – a day with four Bernstein concerts presented in DC – I indulged my love of jazz with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, presented by Washington Performing Arts, again at the Kennedy Center. The orchestra began with a swinging version of the overture to “Candide,” featuring Marsalis’s virtuoso finger work on the horn. But Marsalis literally took a back seat, allowing others in the superb 15-member ensemble to demonstrate their musicality and affinity for Bernstein’s compositions. They ended with a stirring “Somewhere,” from “West Side Story.”
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
Mark Swed, music critic of the Los Angeles Times, said earlier this year of Bernstein, “He was the first great American conductor. He became the first classical music television star…. For better and worse, Lenny was bigger than life – a shaman, even.”
For a complete Bernstein at 100 calendar of events, visit LeonardBernstein.com.
Ann Greer has covered culture in the DC region for The Washington Post, Capitol File magazine, and WAMU-FM, among others. She was the first online theater critic in the DC region, for AOL Digital City Washington.