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Orchestra ends season with tribute to Bernstein

April 10, 2019

The Rochester Symphony Orchestra winds up its 99th season this weekend with a belated 100th birthday celebration of Leonard Bernstein.

Bernstein, who would have turned 100 last year, is featured in the concerts Saturday and Sunday at Lourdes High School.

“As a conductor, composer and as a spokesperson for music, he is the most important influence on the American music scene in the 20th century,” said Jere Lantz, Rochester Symphony director.

To highlight that reputation, the orchestra will play selections from the early, middle and late years of Bernstein’s long career.

The early years will be represented by three dance variations from “Fancy Free,” a short ballet that was not a major hit. “He was just a kid of 25 when he wrote it,” Lantz said.

“Fancy Free” eventually morphed into the hit musical “On the Town,” although the movie version of that show used only one of Bernstein’s original pieces of music.

Next comes the overture from “Candide,” another Bernstein effort that was not immediately popular when it was debuted in 1956. “But when it was revived in 1973, the whole thing was so much better,” Lantz said.

“It is maybe the greatest overture of the 20th century,” Lantz said, citing the composition’s “gorgeous melodies and high energy.”

The Bernstein trilogy will conclude with the prelude of the third act of “A Quiet Place.” “It’s very dramatic and deep,” Lantz said. “It shows him at his heavyweight moments late in his career. I really like it, but it’s heavy.”

The second half the concert features the first symphony of another former New York Philharmonic conductor, Gustav Mahler.

Mahler’s first symphony, Lantz said, is one of his less grandiose. “The older he got, the more long-winded he got,” Lantz said of Mahler. “We’re doing the first symphony, before he got to that stage.”

The symphony draws from Mahler’s upbringing in Austria, with sounds and snippets from the village life he knew as a child.

“You feel, as it goes to the end, his love of life,” Lantz said.