In this Sept. 24, 1962, file photo Leonard Bernstein leads the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in the inaugural concert in New York's new Philharmonic Hall.
Associated Press
Students in the Indiana University School of Music got a rare treat as composer Leonard Bernstein offered his services as a teacher to a conducting class in the Musical Arts Center in Bloomington, Feb. 5, 1982.
Terhune, Associated Press
In this July 26, 1971, file photo conductor Leonard Bernstein tells reporters in Washington that the work he is preparing for the 1971 opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is a "labor of love."
Charles Harrity, Associated Press
In this Nov. 14, 1943 file photo, 25-year-old Leonard Bernstein, Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, is shown at the piano at Carnegie Hall in New York.
Associated Press
Leonard Bernstein speaking at a press conference in San Francisco, California, Feb. 20, 1984.
Jeff Reinking, Associated Press
Leonard Bernstein lead European Community Youth Orchestra performs L. V. Beethoven's Overture "Leonore" No. 3 op. 12b in the Hiroshima Peace Concert 1985, Thursday, Aug. 6, 1985.
Sasahara, Associated Press
Leonard Bernstein, composer and director, holding Grammy at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles in March 1985.
Associated Press
Conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein conducts a masters class at the Juilliard School at Lincoln Center in New York, Dec. 16, 1985. Bernstein spent the afternoon with musicians in training at the Juilliard School, teaching and sharing his passion for music and his insights, as student conductors led the Juilliard Symphony, which is composed of mostly juniors.
G. Paul Burnett, Associated Press
Composer and Conductor Leonard Bernstein, center, during a public rehearsal with the Vienna-Philharmonic Orchestra in the recently opened East Berlin music hall, the former Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Berlin's old city, Oct. 24, 1987.
Edwin Reichert, Associated Press
Conductor Leonard Bernstein gives the party his interpretation of "Happy Birthday" at a party at the Bottom Line, a pop music club in New York, Thursday, April 15, 1988 for his longtime manager Harry Kraut. How did he sound? According to some listeners he's a much better conductor.
Aubrey Reuven, Associated Press
Conductor Leonard Bernstein, left, receives the scroll naming him honorary Laureate conductor of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Tel Aviv, June 8, 1988 from the 1st horn player of the orchestra Yaacov Michouri.
Nash, Associated Press
Leonard Bernstein leads the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival Orchestra in Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1. Bernstein's appearances with the orchestra in Moscow are his first here since 1959, Wednesday, July 27, 1988.
Boris Yurchenko, Associated Press
Leonard Bernstein tells a news conference he hopes a series of concerts he is giving here will advance the cause of Soviet reform in Moscow, Wednesday, July 27, 1988. Bernstein is conducting the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival Orchestra.
Boris Yurchenko, Associated Press
Conductor Leonard Bernstein leads the Boston Symphony Orchestra during a rehearsal at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass., Aug. 26, 1988. Bernstein celebrated his 70th birthday on Thursday night at Tanglewood where many performers paid tribute to his work.
Chris Gardner, Associated Press
Brahms-Prize 1988 in his hands he just presented by West-German chancellor Helmut Kohl, left, during a concert of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra directed by Bernstein, State Schleswig-Holstein in Neumuenster, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 1988. The Brahms-Prize is given by the Brahms-society-Reiden to person or authorities who render outstanding services to the works of the composer Johannes Brahms. Karl Eduard Claussen (background, left) is the chairman, Justus Frantz (background right) the art-director of the Brahsm-society Heiden, where the family-house of Johannes Brahms stands.
Claus Eckert, Associated Press
Conductor Leonard Bernstein appears at "Breakfast and Bernstein" a special working rehearsal of the Philharmonic's concert at Avery Fisher Hall in New York, November 1, 1988.
Osamu Honda, Associated Press
Leonard Bernstein, American composer and conductor, directs the New York Philharmonic during a rehearsal, Nov. 12, 1988, for an all-Bernstein program marking the 45th anniversary of his conducting debut.
Associated Press
Conductor Leonard Bernstein, right, grasps the hand of pianist Krystian Zimerman as they take their bows following a performance with the New York Philharmonic in New York on Monday, Nov. 15, 1988. The performance marked the 45th anniversary of Bernstein's triumphant conducting debut with the Philharmonic, Nov. 14, 1943.
Osamu Honda, Associated Press
Conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein opens his shirt to display a t-shirt emblazoned with the word "Harvard" in Hebrew during a rehearsal with the Boston Pops Symphony in Boston in 1989.
Associated Press
Musical conductor Leonard Bernstein in Paris, France in November 1981.
Associated Press
Conductor Leonard Bernstein in Austria, Oct. 26, 1984.
Associated Press
Composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein is seen with his fiancee, Felicia Montealegre of Santiago, Chile, 1947, in Boston.
Associated Press
In this Sept. 21, 1962, file photo conductor Leonard Bernstein, left, and composer Aaron Copland, right, retire to a room backstage during a break in rehearsal to iron out details in the Copland composition "Connotations for Orchestra," in New York.
Jacob Harris, Associated Press
In this Monday, June 5, 1972 file photo Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, center left, stands with conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein, center right, as she shields light from her eyes while looking up at the stage in the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in Washington.
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Former Utah Symphony pianist and associate conductor Ardean Watts wept when Leonard Bernstein died on Oct. 14, 1990.

The morning following Bernstein’s death, Watts played the composer’s “Mass” over the sound system in his University of Utah classroom.

With tears streaming down his face, Watts looked at his students and told them the great composer had died.

Bernstein, who died at 72, was born Aug. 25, 1918, and this weekend, the Utah Symphony kicks off a celebration of the composer’s birth centennial with performances that aim to showcase the breadth and diversity of Bernstein’s works. The celebration begins Friday, Feb. 23, with pianist Conrad Tao’s rendition of “Age of Anxiety” and concludes later this year on Nov. 9-10 with a semi-staged production of Bernstein’s popular operetta “Candide.”

Watts, who died last year at 89, isn’t the only one in Utah’s arts scene who revered Bernstein. Paul Meecham, Utah Symphony and Utah Opera president and CEO, is particularly excited for the symphony’s upcoming celebration, called “Bernstein at 100.” He recalled watching Bernstein conduct Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 at London’s Royal Albert Hall in the 1980s — a performance that has stuck with him ever since.

“Of course I spent the whole time watching up from the nosebleed seats — just watching him — because he is so mesmerizing to watch … . But what I remember most about the performance was … I (didn't seem) to take a breath. I just remember it being one complete arc of a performance … it was incredible."

Bernstein was buried with a copy of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, and his deep love of Mahler set him apart from other conductors of his day, according to Meecham, who said that Mahler’s pieces were often viewed as unwieldy, requiring “great orchestral forces” because of their length.

“When it came to repertoire, I think the fact that (Bernstein) championed Mahler when nobody else was championing Mahler was highly significant and is the reason why Mahler is a much more accepted composer," Meecham said. "… (Bernstein’s) personality, he felt things very strongly and wore his heart on his sleeve, and I think Mahler’s music is like that sometimes.”

The idea for "Bernstein at 100" came from music director Thierry Fischer, who once performed in an orchestra in Munich under the direction of Bernstein, who was then nearing the end of his life.

“When you have an American artist like Bernstein — he’s a legend,” Fischer said. “His piano playing, his composing, his conducting and his commitment to education … he was involved in so many aspects of what music can bring to a community, to a society."

Paul de Hueck, Provided by The Leonard Bernstein Office
Leonard Bernstein was the longtime music director of the New York Philharmonic and well known for popular works including the musical "West Side Story" and the operetta "Candide."

The Utah Symphony's tribute to Bernstein begins Friday and Saturday with Tao's performance of the jazz-infused Symphony No. 2, also known as the “Age of Anxiety," a 1949 piece based on a W.H. Auden poem of the same title.

Tao, a 23-year-old pianist based in New York, first heard "Age of Anxiety" when he was around 11 years old, and even at that young age, he was instantly moved by the piece.

"That’s actually a pretty good time for this piece to arrive in someone’s life," he said. "It's a very earnest piece, it's a very emotional piece and it's a very ambitious piece ... When I discovered (it), it was just a very emotional experience, because it was very moving to encounter a work that aims to even tackle these things at all, these huge topics.”

The following weekend, March 2-3, will include performances of Bernstein’s choral work “Chichester Psalms," to be directed by Barlow Bradford, and the orchestral work “Divertimento."

These three stylistically diverse pieces reflect "three strong sides of (Bernstein's) personality," according to Fischer, while also showcasing the composer's "creativity and innovative way of writing music."

Marion S. Trikosko, Provided by the Library of Congress
Leonard Bernstein, an American composer and conductor who died at 72, was born Aug. 25, 1918. This weekend, the Utah Symphony kicks off a celebration of Bernstein's birth centennial with performances that aim to showcase the breadth and diversity of the composer's works.

Fischer added that he's especially looking forward to performing "Candide" in November, as the piece was his introduction to Bernstein. Fischer first heard "Candide" on the radio as a teenager in his Geneva home — located about 10 miles from the grave of Voltaire, the French author of the novella "Candide" on which Bernstein's operetta is based.

While celebrating Bernstein, the Utah Symphony will also be making history with its upcoming performances, as the next two weekends allow the orchestra to complete one of its goals for the 2017-18 season: Become the first American orchestra to record all five of French composer Camille Saint-Saens’ symphonies.

On Feb. 23 and 24, in addition to accompanying Tao, the symphony will perform Saint-Saens’ “Danse Macabre” and Symphony No. 1 — to be recorded live for the European record label Hyperion. The orchestra will complete the Saint-Saens cycle with Symphony in A Major, recorded live the following weekend on March 2-3. Hyperion will then release the orchestra’s performances of all five symphonies on three CDs.

But as the Saint-Saens cycle comes to a close, the commemoration of Bernstein is only beginning.

"When it’s the year (Bernstein) should have been 100 years old, I would have felt really embarrassed not to have a massive celebration for such a legendary American artist," Fischer said. "I really wanted to pay a very, very strong tribute to him.”

If you go …

What: Utah Symphony presents “Bernstein at 100”

When: Feb. 23-24, 7:30 p.m.; March 2-3, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple

How much: $15-$83


Phone: 801-533-6683