Late Night With Leonard Bernstein

This article appeared in the March/April edition of Macon Magazine.

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Photo: Leonard Bernstein at work as his daughter Jamie and son Alex look on.

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“He was a night owl,” Jamie Bernstein explained of her famous father, Leonard. “He could never shut his motor off, and so, so much of his most creative times happened in the middle of the night.”


As Ms. Bernstein — an accomplished narrator, writer and radio host — went on to explain, these bursts of midnight-oil-fueled musical inspiration could just as easily draw her dad to the piano at an after-hours party as it would to his home studio, but the results were always brilliant and singularly Bernstein. “He would be the last one at a party still playing the piano at four o’clock in the morning, coming up with these ideas,” she continued.


This proclivity lies at the heart of “Late Night with Leonard Bernstein,” an intimate portrait of Leonard Bernstein that aims to recreate for a concert audience the moments of inspiration, humor, beauty, and experimentation that friends and family came to expect from the legendary musician, conductor, and composer in those magical predawn hours.


The show, which opened in 2011 with a well-received run at Lincoln Center and continued at Copland House, an intimate venue in Westchester County, New York (about an hour north of New York City), incorporates familiar Bernstein favorites with rarities and celebrated tunes in their unfamiliar original contexts. In addition, the performance — which features vocalist Amy Burton, pianists John Musto and Michael Boriskin, along with spoken interludes by Ms. Bernstein — incorporates diverse works by some of the Bernstein’s favorite composers and artists, including Aaron Copland, Shubert, Noel Coward, and Chopin, as well as rare video and audio clips that capture Bernstein in his many creative moods.


“He really was such a larger-than-life figure,” pianist and Copland House Artistic and Executive director Michael Boriskin explained. “Late Night with Leonard Bernstein is a really creative and enchanting program that gives us a more personal, private view of Bernstein, who was, after all, not only one of America’s greatest musicians, but also an extraordinarily public and theatrical figure.”


The original idea for the performance came about when the New York City Opera presented a revival of Bernstein’s 1983 dramatic opera, A Quiet Place.  “George Steel (General Manager and Artistic Director of New York City Opera) arranged for A Quiet Place to be done,” Jamie Bernstein explained, “and then he created all of these events around the opera, and “Late Night…” was one of them.” From there, the four-person show played for packed housed in the New York area, and the cast is currently set to take the “Late Night with Leonard Bernstein” on the road.


“There was interest throughout the country, with various presenters, as in Macon,” Michael Boriskin remarked. The show with the original cast will be performing “Late Night” at Wesleyan’s Porter Auditorium in Macon on Friday, March 8th at 7:30pm. “We’re really excited to bring this intimate celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s life and music to Porter Auditorium,” Rosemary Spiegel of the Macon Concert Association — the sponsor of the concert — said. “This will really be a special concert and a unique event for Macon.”


For Jamie Bernstein, “Late Night with Leonard Bernstein” is a unique opportunity to share a glimpse of her famous father outside of the concert halls, opera houses, and lecterns where he was so at home. “This is just the way he was, coming up with zany late-night ideas,” she explained. “I love telling stories about my father. He was such a character, and my family were all such fans of his music and we just enjoyed his presence. It’s great to share this with the world.”

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