Whether it’s a kitchen table, the fireplace or in front of the television, people gravitate toward certain spaces to connect, share and live. In the home of Leonard Bernstein, the piano acted as that social magnet to draw family and friends together.
“My dad would naturally drift over to the piano and play music related to whatever we were talking about,” said Jamie Bernstein, the daughter of Leonard Bernstein.
“He might play the jingle from some ad that we saw on TV , or a pop song we heard on the radio. (The piano) was the place where stuff got worked out that was in the soundtrack of our lives.”
Late Night with Leonard Bernstein at the Gilmore Keyboard Festival brings these moments of creativity and camaraderie to life on May 3 in the Dalton Center Recital Hall. Narrated by Jamie, the multimedia cabaret recreates night owl work sessions and wee-hour soirees that occured in the Bernstein household.
“The whole idea of the evening is that it’s a kind of guided tour inside my father’s insomniac brain,” Jamie said.
Knowing that Leonard “had a motor in his mind that he couldn’t shut off” helps explain the monumental creative output during his lifetime. His fame is in part derived from his long tenure as conductor at the New York Philharmonic. He led the orchestra for 11 seasons as music director and was the first American- born-and-trained conductor to do so. As a composer, he is known for his work in many forms — from the beloved Broadway musical West Side Story and his operetta, Candide, to his second symphony, The Age of Anxiety.
Leonard was also a great communicator and was the first conductor to give televised lectures on music for children and adults.
“Everything he did was a kind of teaching, imparting information and sharing whatever it was he was excited about,” Jamie said.
Humanitarianism was also important to her father.
“He devoted his entire life to trying to make the world a better place, and when he saw injustice, he spoke out,” she said.
Late Night honors all of these dimensions of the maestro’s personality and legacy. The event launched with soldout performances at Lincoln Center and Copland House in 2011. Now, it’s coming to The Gilmore Festival to celebrate what would have been Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday.
The program features the talents of two pianists, Michael Boriskin and John Musto, and a soprano, Amy Burton, as it traces Leonard’s journey back to his beginnings as a gifted undergraduate student and aspiring composer. Alongside Jamie’s narration and video excerpts, the musicians perform several compositions by Copland, Schubert, Grieg and others.
“He was this very outgoing, social person who loved to be the center of the party,” Jamie said. “So some of the material in the show includes showboating piano pieces he would love to play to amuse everyone.”
While the program nods to Leonard’s gregariousness, it also captures his contemplative side.
“He composed late at night when the rest of the world was asleep, and there were no interruptions,” Jamie said.
The results of these work sessions were often piano sketches dedicated to important people in his life.
“We like including these piano sketches because they evoke that quiet, personal side of his personality,” Jamie said.
Leonard Bernstein aficionados may be surprised by rare video clips, zany musical gags and the unveiling of scrapped ideas — all intended to evoke his mischievousness and deep fondness for music.
“The atmosphere I grew up in was lively and informal, with funny songs and word games,” Jamie said. “We basically swam in music.”
Late Night with Leonard Bernstein
Dalton Center Recital Hall
Van De Giessen Rd #3001, Kalamazoo
May 3, 8:00 p.m., $15 - $35