It won’t be just any night when a celebration of Leonard Bernstein is underway.
This Saturday, the 26 professional singers of the Houston Chamber Choir will perform a concert featuring the full range of the world-famous composer’s genius in 20 works, including excerpts from Broadway’s “West Side Story,” “Candide” and “On the Town,” alongside sacred choral pieces and selections from “Mass” at South Main Baptist Church.
The program honoring Bernstein’s centennial is one of nearly 3,000 events taking place worldwide over two years and will be presented through the eyes of his oldest child — New York-based concert narrator, writer and broadcaster Jamie Bernstein.
“You know Bernstein the composer. Now get to know Bernstein the man,” said the ensemble’s founder and artistic director Robert Simpson of the concert’s overriding theme. The performance will reflect the intimate nature of a family gathering, he said, and Jamie is the “secret sauce.”
Throughout the evening, she will serve as commentator, offering personal reflections and remembrances of her iconic father, who died in 1990, and his rich legacy as a composer, conductor, author, pianist and music educator. In the past few months, she, like her brother and sister, has traveled to at least a dozen different cities, some multiple times, to take part in similar events.
“For us, it’s the most fantastic and irrefutable opportunity to both remind the world of who our dad was and what he left behind for all of us to enjoy and love,” she said, “and also to introduce him to younger generations who might not actually know so well who he is anymore.”
One of her favorite stories to tell is how she and her siblings discovered the extent of her father’s prominence, watching Wilma and Betty swoon with excitement on their way to hear “Leonard Bernstone” conduct the “Hollyrock Bowl” on an episode of “The Flintstones.”
“We looked at each other like, ‘Oh my God, I guess he must have really hit the big time,’” she said, laughing.
Simpson’s early memories of Bernstein were also from watching television, his eyes glued to the black-and-white screen as the music director of the New York Philharmonic graced the podium in his Young People’s Concerts. Having grown up in the city, Simpson regrets never nagging his parents to see Bernstein perform live, but he did eventually meet the icon at the National Cathedral in Washington while in town for a production of “Trouble in Tahiti” at the Kennedy Center.
“He had matinee-idol good looks, a mesmerizing manner on the podium, and his music became part of the American experience,” he said. “I can’t think of anyone who has had such a deep impact in so many fields of music and music education.”
Of all of Bernstein’s works, Jamie sees the most of him in “Mass,” a once controversial theater piece that not only has an orchestra and a variety of singers but also a blues band, a rock band, a marching band, a children’s chorus and a Broadway-style chorus, among others.
“It has all these different things going on in it,” she said, “and my father himself was so multifaceted that this piece kind of embodied him more than most.”
As for her favorite, however, this is a conversation that she and her siblings have discussed often.
“We always say it’s whichever one we happen to have heard last.”
“Tonight, Tonight Won’t Be Just Any Night”
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: South Main Baptist Church, 4100 S. Main
Tickets: $10-$40; 713-224-5566, houstonchamberchoir.org
Lawrence Elizabeth Knox is a writer in Houston.
Knox, L.E. (2018, May 9). Daughter Honors Leonard Bernstein with the Houston Chamber Choir. Retrieved from www.houstonchronicle.com.