By Truman C. Wang
The LA Phil’s “Bernstein 100 Celebration” continued outdoors after the wildly successful in-season performances of MASS and Chichester Psalms at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The Tuesday, July 10 Hollywood Bowl concert cut a wide swath of Bernstein’s creative outputs, spanning 25 years and multiple genres, reaffirming Bernstein’s status as the most popular and versatile American classical composer of the 20th century and possibly the 21st (Such is the state of classical music today, nobody with Bernstein’s stature in American music has yet to emerge.)
The program started with the rousing Big Band number Prelude, Fugue and Riffs (1949/Rev.1955) dedicated to Benny Goodman. It was Bernstein at his toe-tapping best; the piece started in a quasi-serious mode with a Prelude and a Fugue, and let loose in the jazzy Riffs that saw the orchestra and audience swinging to the music and the ebullient clarinet playing of LA Phil’s new principal Boris Allakhverdyan. It ended in a blazingly brilliant crescendo not unlike Ravel’s Boléro.
The Three Meditations from MASS (1977), so magnificently staged at the Disney Hall a few months ago, were a somber work for cello and orchestra. In 2001, I had the opportunity to meet and briefly chat with its dedicatee, Mstislav Rostropovich in Cerritos, CA following a concert of Haydn and Saint-Saëns by the Pasadena Symphony. The maestro mentioned the Meditations from Mass as one of the great American works he had played and what a great guy Lenny was. At the Bowl, 24-year-old French cellist Edgar Moreau played the piece with quiet eloquence and emotional restraint. Dudamel conducted the orchestra with the same finesse that he did for the staged Mass.
We then moved on to Bernstein as the musical theater composer, although the line between musical theater and opera becomes blurred with West Side Story (1957). TV actress Sutton Foster and Broadway veteran Brian Stokes Mitchell made a delightful, winsome couple in musical numbers from On the Town (1944) and Wonderful Town (1953). Conductor Dudamel also let his hair down and loosened his bowtie to get into the spirit of these songs. The concert ended with the ever-popular West Side Story Symphonic Dances (1961) containing all the greatest hits from the musical (minus “America”) in a masterful symphonic development. Its nine sections could be organized into the four movements of a symphony: Allegro-Scherzo-Andante (“Meeting Scene”)-Allegro Finale. Bernstein’s genius and ease of moving between the popular and serious media are nowhere more apparent than in the score of the West Side Story.
This concert was a truly meaningful tribute to America’s most-beloved composer-conductor-educator. Happy 100th Lenny!
Truman C. Wang is Editor-in-Chief of Classical Voice, whose articles have appeared in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Pasadena Star-News, other Southern California publications, as well as the Hawaiian Chinese Daily.