This concert at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra was a bit different from the norm. This was a Saturday morning matinee, designed for the kids and the kids at heart. In conjunction with the larger evening concert celebrating the 100th birthday of Leonard Bernstein (I didn’t have tickets for it), this matinee was only about an hour long, patterned after the television specials he conducted that introduced the orchestra to kids. Clapping and toe-tapping was encouraged. What I did not anticipate is that the average age of the kids everywhere I looked was about four years old. You know… start ’em early. This is a good thing.
This was the program for this show:
JEFF TYZIK CONDUCTS
JAMIE BERNSTEIN SPEAKER AND HOST
On the Town: Times Square
Mass: Meditation No. 3
Fancy Free: Danzón
West Side Story: Prologue
West Side Story: Symphonic Dances (Selections)
As the lead conductor for the DSO’s pops program, Jeff Tyzik is a conductor I’ve seen at the DSO many times. He was actually at the podium for my first concert there a few years back, a celebration of the entire Star Wars saga, back when it was six films. I love this guy’s energy.
Jamie Bernstein is the daughter of Leonard Bernstein. She hosted, narrated, engaged with the kids, and really broke down the music in a way that I think would have pleased her father to no end. And she set the tone for the show, lip syncing various parts in every piece. She’s a trip. It’s really hard not to enjoy yourself for a show like this.
I went into this mostly blind. Confession time: I know West Side Story, and admittedly… I’m not a fan. I’ve heard some other pieces from Bernstein here and there, but there are considerable gaps in my appreciation and understanding. This concert was a chance to fix that. And I think it really helped me. I had a blast. I discovered that West Side Story is far better as an instrumental. I can’t take the story seriously, even if it is an updated Romeo and Juliet, and I could never take the visuals seriously. Grease did the same thing, and as I was introduced to both of them around the same time when I was younger, the latter was a little less silly to me. Gangs snapping do not inspire much for me beyond laughter. So you see, I had a bit of a prejudice going in that I knew I needed to bust past. After all, if John Williams respects Bernstein, there’s something here I needed in my life. It turns out there is. As an instrumental, West Side Story‘s themes make for a rich experience as a tone poem, and I certainly had a blast with the pieces preceding it in this set. This, I think, is how I’ll continue my explorations into more of Bernstein’s catalog, as orchestral pieces where possible.
The history and influences from Bernstein’s mother singing with the radio, to the sounds of the chants and instruments heard in the synagogues, to the jazz and Latin rhythms that inspired him… it appears that Bernstein forgot nothing and found a way to utilize everything. It was an audio equivalent of how George Lucas approached storytelling, if you’ll forgive the comparison. So fascinating to get a breakdown of how everything worked and worked together. I love that sort of thing. For an hour long show, it certainly packed in a great deal.