The Next Bern­stein Gen­er­a­tion

Forward Magazine - - Travel - By Talya Zax

In honor of the cen­ten­nial of Leonard Bern­stein’s birth — he was born Au­gust 25, 1918 — cities across the globe are con­duct­ing two years of cel­e­bra­tory events. Bern­stein’s chil­dren, Alex, Jamie and Nina Bern­stein, spoke with the For­ward about the cen­ten­nial, and their fa­ther’s legacy. The con­ver­sa­tion has been edited for clar­ity and brevity.

TALYA ZAX: What are some of the cen­ten­nial events you’re most ex­cited about?

ALEX BERN­STEIN: A happy sur­prise is how many pro­duc­tions there are go­ing to be of “Can­dide.” Also, my fa­ther’s tremen­dous work “Mass: Theater Piece for Play­ers, Singers and Dancers,” which I think he put more of him­self into than any­thing else, will be per­formed a great deal. We’re very much look­ing for­ward to those pro­duc­tions.

NINA BERN­STEIN: “Mass” ex­em­pli­fies our dad’s di­ver­sity. It’s genre bend­ing. It has or­ches­tral pas­sages, it has rock-and-roll, it has blues, it has jazz, it has Broad­way-style songs and it has bal­let. It’s a gi­gan­tic and ex­tra­or­di­nary piece.

JAMIE BERN­STEIN: It was con­tro­ver­sial. The Catholic Church was it­self of two minds about it. [But] af­ter our fa­ther died it was even­tu­ally re­quested at the Vat­i­can by Pope John II. How will you be par­tic­i­pat­ing in the cel­e­bra­tions?

J.B.: I have a mem­oir com­ing out [from] HarperCollins in late spring. [And] I’m ar­rang­ing for the song from “West Side Story,” “Some­where,” to be of­fered for free to ev­ery youth orches­tra and youth cho­rus in the U.S. and, I’m hop­ing, around the world. The idea is that this song is a way to ex­press our fa­ther’s deep­est feel­ings about the world. Each of you has pro­fes­sion­ally en­gaged with your fa­ther’s legacy. What have the great­est chal­lenges and re­wards been?

A.B.: I’ve got­ten very in­volved in ed­u­ca­tion, which I think is a re­sult of my fa­ther be­ing a mar­velous ed­u­ca­tor. Shortly be­fore he died we got in­volved in a won­der­ful pro­ject called “Art­ful Learn­ing”; we work with schools all over the coun­try [to put] the arts at the cen­ter of the school’s cur­ricu­lum. That’s re­ally where my fa­ther and I could meet. I’m cer­tainly not a mu­si­cian. Lord knows I tried.

N.B.: We’ve all in­her­ited the teach­ing gene. I teach food ed­u­ca­tion to kids in rough neigh­bor­hoods.

A.B.: Our fa­ther and our mother, Feli­cia Mon­teale­gre, were pas­sion­ate about so­cial jus­tice. That was some­thing we grew up with; that’s just a part of us. J.B.: “Mass” is on the top of that list. [And] the three of us adore this or­ches­tral piece, a kind of vi­o­lin con­certo, called “Ser­e­nade.”

N.B.: The sym­phonies. He wrote them over the course of 25, 30 years, so they’re stylis­ti­cally di­verse. The third, “Kad­dish,” in­cludes a nar­ra­tion our fa­ther wrote in which he tus­sles with God about the state of the world. There have been a num­ber of al­ter­nate nar­ra­tions, in­clud­ing one by my sis­ter in which she tus­sles with [our] fa­ther.

A.B.: There’s go­ing to be new chore­og­ra­phy for some of the bal­lets, which I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to. Also a new bal­let of his sec­ond sym­phony, “Age of Anx­i­ety.” Your fa­ther’s work brought him close to some of the most mo­men­tous events of the 20th cen­tury, from the cre­ation of Is­rael to the fall of the Ber­lin Wall. Do you think that im­pacted his work?

A.B.: He marched, he wrote cam­paign songs, he would par­tic­i­pate in ral­lies. He gave con­certs for peace. Look at “Mass” and “West Side Story.” “On the Town,” which is from [1944], had an in­ter­ra­cial cast. Dur­ing the war, the in­génue — the dancer — was Ja­panese Amer­i­can. What are your first mem­o­ries of your fa­ther as a mu­si­cian? N.B.: I feel like it hap­pened in utero. A.B.: My first mem­o­ries were go­ing, of­ten with Jamie, to the “Young Peo­ple’s Con­certs,” just be­ing around the mu­si­cians as they stag­gered in early in the morn­ing, learn­ing the mu­sic.

J.B.: “West Side Story” is our fourth sibling. My first mem­ory of Daddy’s mu­sic is lis­ten­ing to that record. Alexan­der and I were born be­fore Nina; we had a record player with fuzzy de­cals stuck to the side. We had record­ings not just of “West Side Story” but of “Can­dide,” “On the Town,” [and] “Won­der­ful Town.” That’s where we first heard our dad’s mu­sic, on that record player. Are there achieve­ments of your fa­ther that you think have been over­looked?


THE THREE BERNSTEINS: Bern­stein’s chil­dren (from left) Jamie, Alexan­der, and Nina.

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