SALT LAKE CITY — If the Utah Symphony is trying to send a message with its opening concerts of the 2018-19 season, perhaps it’s this: A party never has to die.
Upcoming performances on Sept. 13 in Ogden and Sept. 14 and 15 in Salt Lake City return to something the symphony started last season — a celebration of renowned conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein’s birth centennial. The big day came and went on Aug. 25, but that doesn’t mean the symphony is done celebrating the famed American composer.
If anything, the party has only gotten bigger in Utah since that late summer day. It’s the reason the composer’s firstborn, Jamie Bernstein, traveled from New York to the Beehive State just two days after her father would’ve turned 100 years old. On Aug. 27, a few of Leonard Bernstein’s family and friends — including the conductor’s last student before passing away — kicked off the 26th annual Moab Music Festival.
For Jamie Bernstein, who recently published a memoir titled “Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein,” the Moab Music Festival, which runs through Sept. 13, illustrates the celebration of her father’s legacy.
“This whole year has been so insane,” she previously told the Deseret News. “There have been so many celebrations worldwide. My brother, sister and I were really hoping for a global celebration, but I’ve got to say, it's beyond anything we imagined — and it's so moving.”
The day the festival in eastern Utah concludes, the Utah Symphony will keep the Leonard Bernstein party going with a program titled “Bernstein on Broadway.” Featuring guest vocalist Morgan James — a performer well-known for her collaborations with jazz collective Postmodern Jukebox — the program is a tribute to Leonard Bernstein’s Broadway works and will include classics from musicals such as “On the Town” and “West Side Story.”
Although this Utah Symphony season kickoff won’t be under music director Thierry Fischer’s baton, the idea for programming a cycle dedicated to Leonard Bernstein's work is very much Fischer's own.
“When you have an American artist like Bernstein — he’s a legend,” Fischer previously toldthe Deseret News. “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."
But, as the Utah Symphony has already shown, the celebration doesn’t have to end with “Bernstein on Broadway” — and it won’t. In November, the orchestra will collaborate with Utah Opera to perform a semi-staged production of one of Leonard Bernstein’s most famous works: the popular operetta “Candide.” It’s an event Fischer is especially looking forward to conducting as the piece marked his introduction to the great composer.
Fischer first heard “Candide” on the radio as a teenager in his Geneva, Switzerland, home — located about 10 miles from the grave of Voltaire, the French author of the novella on which Leonard Bernstein’s operetta is based. Even as a teenager Fischer recalled being impressed with the composer's creativity and “innovative way of writing music,” he said.
So bringing “Candide” to life later this season will be not only a tribute to the composer but also a warm memory for Fischer. And even though Jamie Bernstein will likely not be in attendance for the Utah Symphony’s production of the operetta, for her, “Candide” is also associated with special childhood memories— albeit in a much more humorous way.
“'I want to see the can-deee!'” Jamie Bernstein remembered crying as a 4-year old back in 1956 as her parents left for the premiere of “Candide.”
“I thought that was what my mother said. She said she was on her way to see candy, so I wanted to go along,” Jamie Bernstein recalled. “And then when they wouldn’t take me I had a total meltdown because it was just clearly not fair that they were going to see candy and not taking their child.”
This snippet from Jamie Bernstein’s childhood is one of many experiences the author includes in her memoir, “Famous Father Girl” (she owes a close friend thanks for teasing her with that name in the second grade).
For Jamie Bernstein, sharing memories of her father with the public is another way to help keep his memory alive. And with its upcoming performances, the Utah Symphony has made it clear it wants to play a role in that objective.
"When it’s the year (Leonard 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: “Bernstein on Broadway”
When: Sept. 13, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Browning Center, Weber State University, Ogden
How much: $15-$46 for adults, $5 for children under age 12
What: “Bernstein on Broadway”
When: Sept. 14 and 15, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple
How much: $15-$68