‘Bernstein & Beethoven’ slated for March 4 at the Cabot

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Leonard Bernstein in 1973. Photo by Allan Warren

 

Symphony by the Sea, the North Shore’s premier professional orchestra, will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth with “Bernstein & Beethoven,” a concert featuring excerpts from his most popular and enduring achievement, “West Side Story,” and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”).

The historic Cabot Theater in Beverly will host the concert on Sunday, March 4 at 3 p.m.

Bernstein, whose given name was Louis, was born in Lawrence to Russian immigrant parents, and attended Boston Latin School and Harvard University. He burst onto the American music scene in 1943 when he substituted for the ailing Bruno Walter as an 26-year-old unknown assistant conductor, leading the New York Philharmonic in a critically acclaimed concert.

Maestro Donald Palma, music director of Symphony by the Sea, has a special and personal connection to Bernstein (1918-1990), who was the grandson of a Ukrainian Hassidic Rav (Rabbi) and the first American to become musical director and conductor of the New York Philharmonic.

Palma grew up in New York, where he attended the Juilliard School and joined Leopold Stowkowski’s American Symphony at age 19. He worked with Bernstein on several other “awe-inspiring concerts” and attended many of his performances at the New York Philharmonic. “I even sent him a piece I wrote when I was 12-years-old!” Palma said by email.

In 1984, when the German classical music record label, Deutsche Grammophon wanted Bernstein to record “West Side Story” in Germany, he insisted the recording be made on the West Side of New York with New York musicians. Bernstein invited Palma, a prominent classical double bassist, to play principal bass on the record.

“One of the high points in my career was recording ‘West Side Story’ with its composer. We recorded not far from where the action of the play takes place,” Palma said. Bernstein’s children provided the spoken dialogue and the BBC documented the week’s proceedings.

A year after his conducting debut, Bernstein established his composing prowess when New York critics awarded his Symphony No. 1 (subtitled “Jeremiah,” in reference to the story of the sixth century B.C.E. Jewish prophet) their highest accolade, pronouncing it the most impressive new work of the year.

Although Bernstein was not traditionally observant, his life and music were steeped in Judaism. He accepted a commission from the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City in 1945 to compose liturgical music for Shabbat services. “Hashkivenu” for cantor mixed chorus and organ is Bernstein’s one work specifically for the synagogue.

He first visited Israel in 1946, when he conducted the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, and he was later appointed the first conductor of the Israel Philharmonic.

To create “West Side Story,” choreographer Jerome Robbins convened a quartet of Jewish artists – the composer, Bernstein; the lyricist, Stephen Sondheim; the librettist, Arthur Laurents; and Robbins, the director and choreographer.

The show transfers Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” to the tempestuous streets of 1950s New York City’s Upper West Side, where two star-crossed lovers find themselves caught between two rival gangs of different ethnic backgrounds: the white Jets and the first-generation immigrants from Puerto Rico, the Sharks.

The centennial concert adds an exciting twist to nine musical selections from “West Side Story” by combining them with stage direction by Penny Singh, narration by playwright, actress and Salem State University professor of theater, Anne Marilyn Lucas, and vocals by the Endicott Singers, directed by Rebecca Kenneally.

Although written over 50 years ago, Kenneally’s students uncovered contemporary messages. “The themes of gang violence, prejudice against immigrants, police brutality and troubled youth seem especially relevant today. The subject matter is as deep as the musical language Bernstein uses to discuss it, and the students are hungry to explore these depths fully,” she said.

Palma deliberately paired Bernstein’s “West Side Story” music with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3. “Lenny was a larger than life figure and as great if not greater than his reputation. He taught so many of us, through his Young Person’s Concerts and Harvard Lectures, how to think about Beethoven’s music,” he said.

On March 4, the great Maestro’s legacy will live on under the baton of one who still feels the thrill of having been touched by his greatness.

For more information, visit symphonybythesea.org or call 978-922-1248.

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The Cabot goes Classical

Chamber music ensemble debuts new “Classical at the Cabot” series

 

The Cabot Theatre in Beverly, which first opened in 1920 as a dream palace of vaudeville and silent movies, will host Virtuoso Soloists of New York (VSNY), a group of young musicians whose shared dream is to commission, perform and record classical music on the international stage. Although each of the seven members brings unique cultural and life experience to the mix, their shared passion for musical exploration and excellence has created one of today’s most exhilarating and vibrant classical music ensembles.

 

The Sunday, February 19 “Classical at the Cabot” concert starts at 3 p.m. and features a program that includes Sergei Rachmaninov: Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G minor; John H. Wallace: Triskele (A Trio for Viola, Oboe and Piano four-hand); Anton Dvorak: Terzetto in C major, Op. 74; and Robert Schumann: Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 44.

 

Yoni Avi Battat, a core member of VSNY, is enthusiastic about the selection for VSNY’s first concert at the Cabot. “We will play a lyrical and stormy contemporary piece by Salem local, John H. Wallace, which has an interesting orchestration of oboe, viola and four hands piano. Dr. Wallace is the composer-in-residence for the Classical at the Cabot concert series, and is on the music faculty at Boston University,” he said.

 

The pieces range from the “innocent and charming” to the “robust and iconic”. “We chose these pieces around the theme of Romance, offering a satisfying and indulgent outing for the Sunday after Valentine’s Day,” he said.

 

Founded in New York City in 2014 by Italian pianist Edoardo Carpendao and Portuguese pianist Inês Andrade, VSNY’s members hail from all over the globe. Violinist Micah Brightwell is a native of New Zealand, cellist Gracie Keith and oboist Courtney Miller are American, and clarinetist Samuel Brandão Marques was born in Portugal.

 

Over the course of its two-year existence, VSNY has performed extensively across the United States and abroad. During the 2015 summer, the ensemble completed a two-week tour of Northern Italy, including a residency at the Udine National Conservatory. This tour realized the group’s collaboration with Italian composer Mario Pagotto, who dedicated a newly composed piece to the group.

 

Each performer is a recognized solo virtuoso, and their combined expertise, enthusiasm and musical flair attracts new audiences by crafting unique programs that highlight the connection between well-known classics and newly commissioned pieces.

 

A Boston-based performer and teacher, Battat plays viola and violin in a variety of different styles. With strong roots in classical music, he has played across the United States and abroad with a number of professional orchestras and chamber ensembles. An advocate of contemporary music, Battat works regularly with living composers of all ages to workshop, premiere and record new works.

 

He started playing violin at age four and picked up the viola at age 14 “because the one violist in my school’s orchestra was not available for our concert”. After playing just a few notes on the rich, low register of the instrument, he quickly realized that it would be far more than a temporary gig. “I felt that I had discovered my true voice as a musician. I especially liked that I could contribute so much as a supporting voice without being in the spotlight, that viola is a collaborative instrument by nature of its register and its role in chamber music.”

 

In addition to his work in classical music with VSNY, Battat also improvises in a number of other musical traditions, from jazz and folk to middle-eastern, salsa, and klezmer. Through his work in these styles, Battat says he aims to increase global awareness and celebrate cultural diversity through music.

 

Although Battat has performed klezmer music in a synagogue and Mario Pagotto’s music at the Udine Conservatory in Italy where the composer teaches, he is equally moved by the upcoming concert in Beverly.

 

“There is something equally special about bringing music to places it hasn’t belonged in the past. This concert season at the Cabot is the first classical music series ever in that beautiful and historic venue, so I’m excited to bring fresh music to audiences there as well,” he said.