PORTLAND — The Portland Symphony Orchestra will present a selection of works by composer Leonard Bernstein and narrated by his daughter Jamie, in a special presentation of two Bernstein by Bernstein concerts. Performances will take place at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 16, and at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 18.
The concerts will be conducted by Robert Moody and feature Bernstein’s Symphony No. 3 “Kaddish,” Chichester Psalms, and “Simple Song” from Mass. The Choral Art Society, Boston Children’s Chorus, and Mary Wilson will join the PSO for these performances.
Bernstein, well known for composing the music for West Side Story, often visited his own concept of faith in many of his works. In an age where few artists become so highly skilled at multiple disciplines within their craft, Bernstein was a pianist, conductor, composer, writer, educator, and musical ambassador-at-large.
The concert will open with Symphony No. 3 Kaddish, a piece composed in 1963 on a commission from the Boston Symphony Orchestra and first performed with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Tel Aviv. Kaddish is an important part of the Jewish prayer service, acting as an ancient liturgical prayer praising God.
Bernstein’s piece combines the prayer with a narrative in which man questions God, creating a tension between the two halves of the piece that is a driving factor in the work. The PSO’s presentation will be narrated by Jamie Bernstein, who will present an adaptation of Bernstein’s original narrative that changes the focus from man’s relationship with God to Bernstein’s own.
In the 1964-65 season, Bernstein took a sabbatical from conducting to focus on experimenting with the new techniques that were prevalent in the musical world around him. Deciding he wasn’t a fan of the current styles, he turned instead to the composition of a new piece he referred to as “the most accessible, B-flat Majorish piece” he’d ever written. The result was Chichester Psalms, a piece containing three movements, each containing a complete Psalm in Hebrew, in addition to part of another.
Mass was composed on a commission from Jacqueline Kennedy for the opening of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. in 1971. Scored for as many as 200 performers, the full production includes a symphony orchestra, a marching band, a rock band, a chorus, a boys’ chorus, street singers, actors, and dancers. Intrigued by the Latin Roman Catholic mass, Bernstein managed to combine the sounds of the mass with inspiration from modern rock musicals that were popular at the time.
Further performance information and program notes can be found online at www.portlandsymphony.org.
Growing up with Leonard Bernstein and pianist and actress Felicia Montealegre, Jamie Bernstein’s musical childhood turned her into a lifelong cultural enthusiast, who currently spends her time spreading her excitement about classical music to others. Bernstein frequently travels the world as a concert narrator, produces and hosts radio shows across the United States, and is an avid writer of scripts, articles, and poetry.
Mary Wilson is the featured soprano for the concert. Her career as a singer has led her to performing chamber music, oratorio, and opera. Recently, she has appeared with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. She was named an Emerging Artist in Symphony Magazine, in the publication’s first presentation of promising classical soloists.
The Choral Art Society has performed major choral works with the Portland Symphony Orchestra for 30 years. All singers are skilled amateurs, selected by audition. Robert Russell, professor of music at the University of Southern Maine, has been the conductor and artistic director of The Choral Art Society for 34 years.
Concerts are preceded by a Concert Conversation in the Rehearsal Hall at Merrill Auditorium, beginning an hour and 15 minutes prior to the concert’s starting time, and followed by a PostConcert Q&A with the artists on stage.
The concert can be heard on MPBN at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 9.
Tickets range from $25-$75 and are available through PortTIX at 207-842-0800 or www.porttix.com. Tickets may also be purchased in person at the box office at 20 Myrtle St., Monday through Saturday, noon to 6 p.m.