'Bernstein at 100' was worth the wait

Jamie Bernstein
The Virginia Gazette

While this year’s Virginia Arts Festival has been offering entertainment for months, April begins a constant flow of events, the opening of which kicked off Friday on a mighty musical note with its “Bernstein at 100.”

The program at the Ferguson Center featured the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, under JoAnn Falletta; the Virginia Chorale; Todd Rosenlieb Dance; soloist from the Virginia Children’s Chorus; internationally acclaimed guest soloists Robert McDuffie, violin, and Jon Manasse, clarinet; and as host-narrator Leonard Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie.

Bernstein was a genius, his creative output finding extensive success in crafting works for the stage and concert hall that embraced all musical styles. A solid sampling of his diversity provided the content of this program which opened with the bubbly Overture to “Candide,” which Falletta and company imbued with energy, spirit and exuberance.

Following and with equal exuberance throughout the evening was Jamie Bernstein who regaled us with stories of life with her father, along with stories behind the works heard Friday and how he came to write them. Her comments and presentation reflected her father’s larger-than-life personality and added to this celebratory concert.

The music continued with “Chichester Psalms,” a luxurious work based on selected texts from the Biblical book of Psalms and sung in Hebrew. At times sweetly lyrical, at times harmonically pleasing as well as jarring, at times percussive and jazzy, at times highly rhythmic, at all times challenging, “Psalms” is a tough sing given its complexities and vocal requirements within sections and in the whole. Its general texture is one of celebration and joy and, as such, offers hope for a sense of peace in our time. While Bernstein wanted the solo part to always be sung by a boy soprano or countertenor, portraying David (of the Psalms), here, a vocally talented Mandy Porter of Maury High in Norfolk did the honors and did so with pitch perfect delivery, her range and purity of voice exemplary. Bernstein would have approved.

“Prelude, Fugue and Riffs” is a full out jazz piece, dedicated to Benny Goodman, and played here by the acclaimed Manasse. For this hearing, choreography for 12 dancers was added to the mix and it didn’t mix well. Performing in front of the orchestra, the dance became a distraction, drew focus away from the music and obscured Manasse, relegating him to a second string player.
Read the rest of the review here