Tag Archives: Leonard Bernstein

Bernstein On Broadway — And The Westport Library

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth. The legendary composer/conductor had a profound impact on Broadway, the Philharmonic, television, young people. You name it, he touched it.

He also had strong local ties. For much of his life he had a home in Fairfield, just over the Westport line. Area residents knew him well.

Leonard Bernstein

Andrew Wilk did not. But like many children of his era, he loved Bernstein’s “Young People’s Concerts” on CBS. They inspired his career in music and TV.

At New York University, Wilk was the only student who could read a full conductor’s score. When the CBS music coordinator was sick prior to a Lincoln Center show, Wilk’s professor got him to fill in.

The network paid him $50, and fired the other guy. At 19, Wilk won an Emmy for his work on the “Young People’s Concerts.”

He now has 4 more. And — in addition to his noted career as executive director of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts — the Westporter serves as a trustee of the Westport Library.

Last year he produced the organization’s Malloy Lecture in the Arts, one of the library’s signature annual events. Past programs have featured Arthur Miller, Christo, Joshua Bell, Joyce Carol Oates, Christopher Plummer and Salman Rushdie.

Andrew Wilk in the “Live From Lincoln Center” remote truck, during “Falsettos.”

Wilk had just produced the film version of “Falsettos” for PBS. He brought the director and cast to the library. It sold out the day it was announced.

So it’s only natural that this year he’s reprising his producing role for the Malloy Lecture — and focusing on Leonard Bernstein.

The event — set for Monday, October 22 (7:30 p.m., Quick Center at Fairfield University) has 2 parts.

The first focuses on Bernstein and Broadway. A panel discussion with his children Nina and Alexander will be moderated by conductor/composer/ producer George Steel. Rare family footage will be shown, including scenes from their life in Fairfield.

The second half of the evening features live musical performances of iconic shows like “West Side Story,” “On the Town” and “Wonderful Town.” Broadway soloists will be joined by the Staples High School Orphenians.

Musical director Michael Barrett will also perform a 4-hand piano arrangement of the “Candide Overture,” with Westport’s own internationally famed Frederic Chiu.

It will all be “a unique perspective on an amazing man,” Wilk promises.

Susan Malloy

It’s one more in the series named after a remarkable person herself. Artist and philanthropist Susan Malloy  died in 2015, age 91.

Thirteen years earlier, she had endowed the lecture series. It’s a free, public annual discussion by a person with significant cultural influence, and whose work has enhanced the understanding and appreciation of the arts.

(The Malloy Lecture in the Arts has already sold out. Call the Quick Center at 203-254-4010 or email boxoffice@quickcenter.com to be put on the wait list. For more information, click here.)

 

When Lenny And Isaac Played Westport

Because the my baby boom generation is so obnoxiously self-important — and because we still cling to control of much of the media — throughout this decade we will insist on foisting 50-year anniversary stories about a mind-numbing number of 1960s events on the rest of the country.

We’ve remembered John Glenn’s orbit of the earth and John Kennedy’s assassination. Next month is the Beatles’ 1st trip to America. On the horizon: the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and Soupy Sales’ “The Mouse.”

So — as Martin Luther King Day nears — this is a good time to remember another 50th anniversary: the night Leonard Bernstein and Isaac Stern played together for the 1st time in public.

It was half a century ago this August. It was a benefit for the Student Nonviolent  Coordinating Committee. And it happened in the Staples High School auditorium.

Leonard Bernstein, back in the day...

Leonard Bernstein, back in the day…

According to the New York Times of August 31, 1964, the concert’s genesis came from Tracy Sugarman. The Westport artist and civil rights activist — who died a year ago, the day before Martin Luther King Day — described his recent “Mississippi Summer” work in Ruleville, Mississippi to Frank Brieff, conductor of the New Haven Symphony.

Brieff called Bernstein, who called Stern. The 2 had played piano and violin together for pleasure, but had never performed in public together.

They were joined by 4 other Fairfield county musicians. The concert sold out, at prices from $3 to $35. That raised $8,250 bringing Westport’s 1964 contributions to the Mississippi Project to $29,000. Previous fundraisers for the NAACP and National Council of Churches included a townwide solicitation, and a small gathering at the home of attorney Alan Nevas. He had just returned from Mississippi where, the Times said, he provided “legal counsel to Negroes.”

Nevas’ son Bernard — age 20 — was one of 6 “freedom workers” honored at the Bernstein/Stern concert. Five were from Westport: Nevas; John Friedland, 22; Martha Honey, 19; Deborah Rand, 20, and John Suter, 19.

...and Isaac Stern.

…and Isaac Stern.

Another guest introduced at the concert was Charles McLaurin. Just a few days earlier, he was a member of the controversial Mississippi Freedom Party at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City.

Also at the concert, Sugarman displayed 43 pen-and-ink drawings of Mississippi, and 6 photos used by SNCC. He called the involvement of youths like the ones from Westport courageous.

“They went there afraid, lived there afraid and worked there afraid,” Sugarman said.

But, the Times noted, “the experience has affected some so deeply…they are torn between resuming their college careers and going back to Mississippi.”

(Hat tip to Fred Cantor for research.)

Fairfield Museum Unites Leonard Bernstein And Keith Richards

In 2014, the town of Fairfield celebrates its founding 375 years ago.

And nothing says “1639” like rock ‘n’ roll, soul, jazz and show tunes.

The Fairfield Museum and History Center kicks off the 375th anniversary with a “Rockin’ Top Ten” exhibit. Among the area musicians honored: former Westporters Ashford & Simpson, and the Remains, a half-Westport band that still inspires awe nearly 50 years after touring with the Beatles.

The exhibit features rare photographs, videos and artifacts from other artists who lived next to Westport, and spent (or are spending) plenty of time here: Weston’s Keith Richards and Jose Feliciano; Wilton’s Dave Brubeck; Fairfield’s Leonard Bernstein, Richard Rodgers, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club), Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards Chic), and Donna Summer.

It’s safe to say that, before this exhibit, all of those names had never before appeared in the same sentence.

The Remains included Westporters Barry Tashian (3rd from right) and Bill Briggs (far right). Rock critic Jon Landau said the band was "how you told a stranger about rock and roll."

The Remains included Westporters Barry Tashian (3rd from left) and Bill Briggs (far left). Rock critic Jon Landau said the band was “how you told a stranger about rock and roll.”

Over the next 3 months the museum show — partially sponsored by Westporters Deej and Deborah Webb — will include musical performances, lectures, artist evenings, films and more.

It kicks off tomorrow (Thursday, January 16, 6 p.m.) with a show featuring Chris Frantz. Other events this year include appearances by Caravan of Thieves, Mystic Bowie and the Zambonis; a performance and lecture tracing the influential friendship between Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland; the story of Bridgeport’s once-famous Ritz Ballroom dance palace, and an evening with Jose Feliciano.

About the only thing missing is Hall and Oates.

(For more information click here, or call 203-259-1598.)

Jake Landau: The Next Leonard Bernstein?

After you’ve composed a piece for the New York Philharmonic, what’s left in life?

How about writing writing choral music for the Conservative Synagogue?

That’s Jake Landau’s latest feat.

Of course, much more lies ahead. Jake is only a Staples High School junior.

Jake Landau

A multi-talented junior, that’s for sure. A student at the Juilliard School pre-college program, a member of the New York Youth Symphony and a national PTA “Reflections” award winner, he’s been playing piano — and composing — almost all his young life.

Classical music is his favorite. But Jake is equally comfortable writing opera, musical theater, soundtracks — and now, a piece for his synagogue.

His work will be performed tomorrow (Sunday, June 3, 7 p.m.) as part of the “On a Chai Note: A Musical Celebration of Israel” concert. Accompanying Jake on piano are 2 other nationally recognized young musicians (and temple members): cellist Danielle Merlis and violinist Sam Weiser.

Amazingly, this is Jake’s 2nd world premiere this spring. Last month, the New York Philharmonic performed a piece he wrote for their School Day concert. That one, he says, was “adventurous, aggressive and knotty.” Tomorrow’s piece is “simpler.” A synagogue is not a concert hall.

Working from a text, Jake composed this work for the “up-in-the-stratosphere soprano” cantor.

Jake Landau, rehearsing at the synagogue’s piano. (Photo/Marcy Juran)

He calls the process “very rewarding. It’s not just that it will be performed by my choir. Most of my pieces are done in high-pressure concert halls, and everyone is rushed for time. This is a much more personal environment.”

Conservative Synagogue Chorale member Marcy Juran is “blown away” by Jake’s talent.

“He understands how to create a beautiful piece of music,” she says. “But the way he explains his work to the choir — how it’s constructed, how he envisions it to sound, how his music matches the liturgical text — is unparalleled.

“It reminds me of hearing Leonard Bernstein explain music — but Jake is only 16! It is a joy to listen to play his piece on the piano, direct us, and understand from him what this is all about.

Still a teenager, Jake understands the long tradition he’s part of. “Music is a craft that’s existed almost as long as man,” he notes. “Music is practical, emotive and evocative. Music is everywhere. I’m proud to help continue that legacy.”

Danielle Merlis and Sam Weiser will also perform at the Conservative Synagogue tomorrow. (Photo/Marcy Juran)

Though Jake also studies piano at Juilliard, his playing is secondary to  composing. In fact, he says, “some of the pieces I write are too difficult for me to play. Someone plays my stuff for me.”

He hopes to make a career in music — writing film scores, operas, commercial soundtracks, “whatever.”

So — after spending the past 2 summers at Interlochen and Tanglewood — this year Jake will stay home. He’ll write orchestral and chamber pieces for his conservatory and music school applications.

Oh, yeah. His college essay, too.

(“On a Chai Note: A Musical Celebration of Israel” free concert takes place Sunday, June 3, 7 p.m. at The Conservative Synagogue, 30 Hillspoint Rd. The program also includes The Western Wind, a renowned a cappella sextet, and Jewish choral singers from throughout Fairfield County. For more information, click here.)