A Private Party at Longy

 

As part of the Bernstein Centennial, Longy School of Music wondered about what we might want to know about the towering American figure. On hand was Jamie Bernstein to provide some insider talk. Other informants, if you will, were mezzo-soprano Sandra Piques Eddy, baritone David Kravitz, and a trio of Longy pianists Wayman Chin, Brian Moll, and Spencer Myer.

Thursday evening’s “in-depth” look brought forth two of Leonard Bernstein’s works, Anniversaries for Piano (1942-86) written for his family and friends, and Arias and Barcarolles, for which he was author of both lyrics and music.

The highlight of the evening had to be Jamie Bernstein, who gave us every sense of having been invited into her living room where, at times, you could almost feel the presence of her father.

A miniature reflection on Aaron Copland began the anniversary vignettes. It is well known the admiration Bernstein held for the grandfather of American music. A tender greeting to Leonard’s sister and a simple narrative melody to his South American born wife Felicia Montealegre followed.

Helen Coates was his first piano teacher when he was fourteen. Later, she was to become his personal secretary, “bossy” and always his “protector.” Continuing in relaxed and friendly tones, Jamie Bernstein directed our attention to the music. You can hear Helen in the opening of this anniversary piece, “wakeup, look sharp!”

Projected on the big screen in Pickman Hall were photos of Bernstein, his family, friends, and selected pages from his many scores. These accompanied a story recounted by Jamie for each of the 14 anniversary pieces.  

She has transformed a lifetime of loving music into a career of sharing her knowledge and excitement with others and, like her father, wears several different hats: narrator, writer, and broadcaster.

Elizabeth B. Ehrman and Leonard Bernstein met when she was 20 and he 27, remaining lifelong friends. When they were students, she wrote to him warning against his taking on multiple musical roles so as not to spread himself thin, winding up master of none. His musical nod to her was a jaunty one. The darkest music addressed daughter Nina, along with whom he shared grief over the loss of her mother and his wife, “who died at the early age of 56.”

Jamie spoke about the collaborative and competitive nature of a relationship before we heard For Stephen Sondheim. She said her father’s message carried in the melody was “see, this is how you write a tune!”

Insightful shaping and tonal sensitivity from Spencer Myer disclosed profound empathy for each and every one of the assorted salutations.     

Visiting Faculty Artist mezzo-soprano Sandra Piques Eddy and guest artist baritone David Kravitz kept pace with the rapid fire duets in Arias and Barcarolles. And they had fun, too. Eddy: “Why not just stop it?” Kravitz: “How can we stop it?” Then, together: “Beautiful but repetitious. Let it stop. Stop.” And Bernstein did just that and on a dime.

Longy faculty pianists Wayman Chin and Brian Moll alternated in apposite piano duet and solo accompaniments. Progressing further in Bersteinian merriment, the two, with baseball caps on, and according to the directions, “Invent new scat syllables” carried jovially on in “Mr. and Mrs. Webb Say Goodnight.”

David Kravitz credibly beckoned the “carefree, red-haired musician” whose little fiddle “went too far, cutting our taut Heartstrings till they bled. ‘Ash!’ the old ones prayed, ‘Have mercy!’” The song was “Oif Mayn Khas’neh” (At my Wedding).

With Eddy and Kravitz ever so delicately humming throughout the closing number, Wayman Chin lovingly offered the Nachspiel as though in a farewell to the American conductor, composer, pianist, mentor, husband, father, and friend to so many.  

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University.  He is the author of  20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer). www.notescape.net

 

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  • I just want to add that my wife and I attended an on-stage interview of Stephen Sondheim by Jamie Bernstein at Glimmerglass during the summer of 2016. When they came out and sat down, after the applause died down, Sondheim shook his head and to Ms. Bernstein "You were such a difficult child". His genius aside, he's a very funny man. There were other aspects of this interview that I can't repeat in polite company that support this notion (see if you can find his story about Ethel Merman and Loretta Young on youtube). Same with his appearance with Frank Rich at Harvard at the time of his 80th birthday.