National Repertory Orchestra celebrates Leonard Bernstein with ‘West Side Story’ screening, free concert
Special guest Jamie Bernstein visits for Q&A
Music has been a vital component in film for as almost as long as the medium has been around. Even in the era of silent films, musicians would accompany the sights on screen.
The National Repertory Orchestra and Breck Film recognize the interconnectedness and partner for events annually, screening movies like “The Wizard of Oz” and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” alongside a live performance of the score.
This year, National Repertory Orchestra is celebrating the life of acclaimed composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein with a two-day event. He is known for creating the songs for the musicals like “West Side Story,” “On the Town” and “Candide,” and he is soon to be the subject of the Bradley Cooper movie “Maestro.”
“Leonard Bernstein was sort of the musician we all remain looking up to,” National Repertory Orchestra CEO Dave DePeters said. “He is the epitome of an American musician. Not just a great musician but also a voice for social justice and equity and inclusion in music.”
Unlike the past events, no score will be played live in tandem with the screening of Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” set for Wednesday, July 27. Rather, Leonard Bernstein’s music will be heard the day before, Tuesday, July 26, at a free concert at the Dillon Amphitheater with a guest appearance by daughter Jamie Bernstein.
What: Music and the Mountains
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 26. Doors open at 5 p.m.
Where: Dillon Amphitheater, 201 W. Lodgepole St.
Music director and conductor Michael Stern said he is combining both Leonard Bernstein’s work with other composers’ work to create an upbeat, summery mix of popular music. On the program are compositions by Giuseppe Verdi, Pietro Mascagni, Bedřich Smetana, Georges Bizet and a solo by violinist Minkyung Lee for Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns’ piece.
However, the highlight of the evening is “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story,” a bespoke creation made by Leonard Bernstein himself. Stern said he likes how it is a coherent suite instead of a medley that throws together the musical’s greatest. He said he admires how it follows the arc of the show, and — like Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet” of which it is inspired by — it doesn’t end with a grand finale.
“The ending is pretty tragic,” Stern said. “For 1957, a quiet, enigmatic ending like that for a Broadway show was pretty radical. It was a stunning, theatrical tour de force and ‘The Symphonic Dances from West Side Story’ ends the same way.”
Though the next day’s screening doesn’t feature a live concert, Jamie Bernstein and Stern will host a Q&A after the 2021 film. Stern invited Jamie Bernstein to Breckenridge after the pair did a similar talk in Connecticut, where Stern works with the Stamford Symphony.
Yet their connections go back further than that. His dad — violinist Isaac Stern — was a friend and colleague of Leonard Bernstein. Michael Stern was born after “West Side Story” premiered on Broadway, but the show holds a special place in his heart. He said the music is now part of the national soundtrack because of his hero.
“He was a composer, a conductor, a pianist, a teacher, an author and a speaker,” Stern said. “He changed, in a very fundamental way, what music looks like and feels like in America in the 20th century.”
For the movie remake, Stern enjoys how Spielberg had Rita Moreno — who played Anita in the 1961 version of the film — come back to play a new character. Stern is also a fan of how choreographer Justin Peck built upon Jerome Robbins’ dances with moves that jump off the screen.
‘A fourth sibling’
For Jamie Bernstein, the film rights wrongs of the earlier movie. Spielberg cast Latino actors to play the Sharks and removed the brown face. He also fixed the movie arrangements, which Leonard Bernstein didn’t work on, and asked the Bernstein music-related questions.
According to Jamie Bernstein, her father focused on other parts of his career at that time and was not a fan of how the music ended up in the film.
“He did not love it, but he didn’t feel like he had the right to complain because he hadn’t been hands-on for the project,” Jamie Bernstein said.
Jamie Bernstein didn’t see the stage musical when it opened since she was just 5 at the time and her parents thought it was too violent. Yet the 9-year-old and her siblings became enamored with the 1961 movie. Because of it becoming such a big hit, they call it their fourth sibling. Her favorite songs change frequently, but currently she is partial “Cool” and “Somewhere,” which Jamie Bernstein said is a profound piece that has become an aspirational anthem to make the world a better place.
What: Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story”
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 27. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Where: Riverwalk Center, 150 W. Adams Ave., Breckenridge
Cost: Tickets range from $5 to $20. Visit NROMusic.org to purchase.
Being surrounded by music naturally led to her being passionate about the medium. Jamie Bernstein tried becoming folk/rock singer-songwriter as a young adult, but feeling self-conscious and anxious about comparisons to her father, she decided to focus on her marriage and raising kids.
“Maybe if my dad had been not quite the luminary that he was, maybe I would have been a musician myself and gotten further along with it,” Jamie Bernstein said. “But it was too hard to compete against him in my head.”
It was only after her father died in 1990 that Jamie Bernstein became interested in preserving his legacy. Before then, she said they simply thought about him as a dad who would play tennis and word games, swim, tell jokes and eat corn on the cob with them.
Like how Leonard Bernstein educated children on classical works with his “Young People’s Concerts,” Jamie Bernstein took to presenting the works of her dad to kids across the globe with “The Bernstein Beat.” That grew to narrating concerts from other composers, giving people a roadmap through the arts, and she found herself with a new career that recently had her penning the memoir “Famous Father Girl.”
“My whole life took a turn and became something else, and it’s been hugely gratifying and really fun,” Jamie Bernstein said. “But I sure didn’t see it coming. It just goes to show you that life can begin at 50. You just never know where life is going to take you.”
Jamie Bernstein has no anxiety when talking about music like she did when performing. She will talk to National Repertory Orchestra musicians about activism and advocacy in music, passing on how to be a citizen musician to make positive changes like her father.
DePeters hopes the sense of outreach will carry on through the orchestra’s beneficiary concerts and stay with the musicians after they leave the program.
“I used to worry about escaping his shadow, but I’m not a spring chicken anymore,” Jamie Bernstein said. “Who cares? I just like living my life and having fun with it. His shadow is not oppressive to me anymore. It’s very interesting to me now.”
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