Leonard Bernstein at 100: The ‘Year of Lenny’ comes to Boise with two performances

Leonard Bernstein conducts Mahler at the Hollywood Bowl in 1983. Opera Idaho and the Boise Phil will offer tributes to the legendary American conductor and composer this fall.
Leonard Bernstein conducts Mahler at the Hollywood Bowl in 1983. Opera Idaho and the Boise Phil will offer tributes to the legendary American conductor and composer this fall. TNS

On the first day of 2018, a dozen cities in Germany, from Augsburg to Wiesbaden, celebrated a new year with concerts that included music by Leonard Bernstein. No matter America’s fraught relationship with Iran, Bernstein’s piano music happened to be played in Tehran on Jan. 1. Thus has begun – with nearly 2,500 events around the globe – Anno Leonardo, or the Year of Lenny.

Aug. 25 is the 100th anniversary of Bernstein’s birth in Lawrence, Mass., 30 miles north of Boston. He was the son of Jewish emigres from Ukraine. His father ran a beauty supply business that Leonard was expected to take over. Instead, he became the most celebrated, most multitalented and most American musician of his time, and he managed to change pretty much everything he touched.

He was the first great American conductor. He became the first classical music television star. He proved an inspired educator and first-rate pianist. He was the first internationally esteemed conductor everyone, whether you knew him or not, called by the familiar, Lenny. For better and worse, Lenny was bigger than life – a shaman, even.

Above all, Bernstein was a conflicted composer. He planted one foot gleefully in the popular culture of Broadway; the other incautious and questing one sought footing in the slippery realm of classical. For a long while there was a debate about whether Bernstein’s neo-Romantic concert works were on the wrong side of progressive music history, let alone good taste. Nothing would have pleased him more when he died at 72 in 1990, prey of his four-packs-a-day cigarette habit, to know that his lasting legacy would be as a composer.

Orchestras across the globe have performed Bernstein’s compositions for the classical and Broadway stages. Boise’s two classical music groups will each perform a tribute to the master composer and conductor.

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Robert Franz, pictured here in his North End home, is the music director for the Boise Philharmonic. Friday July 10, 2015 Kyle Green kgreen@idahostatesman.com

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Idaho native Cecilia Violetta López will sing the role of Maria in Opera Idaho’s concert performance of “West Side Story.” The performance is a tribute to Leonard Bernstein for his centennial celebration. Idaho Statesman file

Opera Idaho’s “West Side Story in Concert”

The Sharks and Jets are at it again as Opera Idaho presents “West Side Story in Concert” this weekend. With conductor Robert Franz at the podium it celebrates Leonard Bernstein’s centennial with what is arguably his most loved and best known music — the songs and score from the 1957 musical “West Side Story.” The performance features Idaho-born soprano Cecelia Violeta López and tenor Joshua Dennis as the ill-fated lovers Maria and Tony.

With music by Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the musical is one of the most enduring and popular staples of the theater. It won multiple Tony Awards, four Broadway revivals, copious national tours and a blockbuster 1961 film.

It translates Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” to 1950s New York City where rival gangs — the Puerto Rican Sharks and the first generation American gang the Jets — battle for turf and respect on the city’s impoverished West Side.

Every note of Bernstein’s score will be played, including the dances, with minimal dialogue and all the glorious songs: “Tonight,” “Maria,” “America” and “Somewhere.”

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 16, Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane, Boise. $25.50-$81. Ticketmaster, 208-426-1110. Season tickets are still available at OperaIdaho.org.

Eric Garcia conducting photo
Eric Garcia will conduct “Bernstein at 100” on Oct. 5 and 6. Provided by the Boise Philharmonic

Boise Phil “Bernstein at 100”

Music director Eric Garcia conducted Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story” last season. This time he will take on the Overture for “Candide,” one of Bernstein’s iconic works for the state, and Chichester Psalms, a choral work that will feature young soprano William Thompson and the Boise Philharmonic Master Chorale. The program rounds out with Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5, Brandt Center, Northwest Nazarene University, 707 Fern St., Nampa, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane. Tickets: $23-$50, $10 students in Nampa; $25-$75, $12 students in Boise. Season tickets are still available at BoisePhil.org.