CU Boulder to Host Two-month Festival Celebrating Composer Leonard Bernstein
As organizations across the country celebrate the late Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday this year, the University of Colorado is taking part, too.
Led by CU piano professor Andrew Cooperstock, the university has planned two months of events spanning September and October to honor the composer best known for the musicals “West Side Story” and “Candide” but also known for his range of works.
“We’ll be highlighting all of the different facets of his career,” Cooperstock said. “It’s Bernstein as composer, as conductor, as teacher, as writer and as humanitarian. There were some who suggested to him that he maybe focus on just one of those areas, but his calling seemed to be to work on all of them. He had great curiosity, great interest in working on all of those.”
The festival will feature public talks and opera, band, choir and orchestral performances, as well as guest appearances by Jamie Bernstein, Leonard Bernstein’s daughter; Glenn Dicterow, former concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic; and Carol Oja, Harvard professor and Bernstein scholar.
The CU College of Music will also collaborate with the program of Jewish Studies and department of Cinema Studies and Moving Image Arts to host screenings of two films: “The Dybbuk” and “West Side Story.”
Nan Goodman, director of the Jewish Studies program, said Bernstein figured as a prominent composer who explored his ethnic and religious background as a Jewish-American man, and she’ll join a panel discussion about the film — based on a play — that inspired Bernstein’s ballet by the same name. The dybbuk, in Jewish folklore, is the spirit of a dead person that possesses a live person.
“It’s an interesting cultural mediation,” Goodman said of the various adaptations, adding that the dybbuk creature fascinated Bernstein.
She said the festival provided an opportunity not only for CU to take part in national celebrations but also to showcase university experts.
“Bernstein did everything, and because we have so many wonderful faculty members we can really hit many of those areas,” she said.“He composed musicals, he wrote ballets, he wrote liturgical music, he wrote symphonies — he did everything.”
As for “West Side Story,” Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz, chair of CU’s department of Cinema Studies and Moving Image Arts, will join a panel discussion about the film and discuss the challenges of turning the story into a movie.
“I am going to talk mostly about the process of adapting ‘West Side Story’ from theater to cinema because movies are an entirely different thing, as we know,” he said.
He’ll also delve into the legacy of “West Side Story” and how to examine it in modern times.
“There’s always a little bit of a minefield when talking about ‘West Side Story,’ especially in contemporary culture where we try to be culturally sensitive and aware of differences,” Acevedo-Muñoz said. “Yet, putting aside these problems, we’re still looking at ‘West Side Story’ as a major landmark in American musical theater and American musical cinema.”
Acevedo-Muñoz noted that few shows are popular in every setting from high school theater to regional theater to opera — and the set of Bernstein at 100 events will also feature performances by the Eklund Opera Program of “West Side Story.”
Cooperstock said Bernstein was so popular and left such a legacy because he came to prominence in a time when television was new and he could reach most homes in America, he was a charismatic performer who traveled the world, and he helped to define American music in the 20th century by combining classical and popular music. He was also the first major figure to present music appreciation lectures on television to a wide audience, Cooperstock said, and he inspired artists who came after him.
“It’s fantastic to see this outpouring of excitement for his birthday,” Cooperstock said. “His work inspired subsequent musicians and teachers and writers to continue his work.”
For more information, a complete list of events and to purchase tickets, visit: colorado.edu/event/bernstein/events .
Cassa Niedringhaus: 303-473-1106, email@example.com