Bernstein at 100: Celebrating the legacy of an American icon

In the year 1918, American composer, conductor, pianist, and music educator Leonard Bernstein was born. Over the course of a storied career that spanned the globe (he was one of the first musicians born and educated in the United States to receive worldwide acclaim), he became nothing short of a legend. In the year of his 100th birthday, many orchestras are looking back at Bernstein’s legacy and how it has shaped the American musical landscape.

When one considers what Bernstein gave to classical music, the scope and depth of his work are astounding. He was highly sought-after as a conductor, holding a long tenure as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic and guest conducting with some of the best orchestras in the world, most notably with the Vienna Philharmonic. Bernstein didn’t just conduct, though─also a highly skilled pianist, Bernstein often “play-conducted” the piano concertos of Ravel, Mozart, and others, always an impressive feat. Furthermore, Bernstein produced a staggering number of recordings with the New York Philharmonic and numerous other orchestras, many of which still stand as pillars in the recorded catalogue today. In fact, Bernstein was instrumental in the first complete recorded cycle of Mahler’s nine symphonies, from which Maurice Abravanel surely took inspiration when he recorded the same cycle with the Utah Symphony in the 1960s and 1970s.

Conducting was just one small piece of Bernstein’s legacy, however. Many of us also know and love him as a composer─his musical West Side Story was an immediate hit when it was released in 1957, and music from this groundbreaking work is still played by orchestras worldwide. He was able to capture the sound and mood of late 1950s New York City in this musical, and that’s a substantial part of what makes all of Bernstein’s music so captivating. He drew inspiration from styles that many may have considered to be at odds with each other─Austro-German classical music, jazz, Jewish music, and the idioms of Broadway musicals all found their way into his compositions to create a tapestry that is distinctively and uniquely American. And yet, the themes Bernstein conveyed in his music were themes of global importance. His favorite idea to come back to was the individual’s search for faith, an idea that remains especially relevant today─he explored this theme in his Symphony No. 2 “Age of Anxiety” as well as in Chichester Psalms, both of which will be performed during Utah Symphony’s “Bernstein at 100” festival.

Beyond these incredible accomplishments, each enough for one lifetime on their own, Bernstein also catapulted classical music into the public psyche by televising the New York Philharmonic’s young people’s concerts on primetime television, starting in 1954 and continuing for almost two decades. He taught millions of Americans how to appreciate classical music through a new and exciting entertainment medium, furthering the reach of the American orchestra and guaranteeing new audiences for the future. So in the year of Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday, the Utah Symphony pays homage to the man that transformed the American classical music scene, propelled it into the 20th century, and fostered generations of musicians and music-lovers alike.

Utah Symphony Artist Logistics Coordinator Erin Lunsford takes care of the many guest artists and guest conductors that perform with the orchestra and enjoys writing about music in her spare time. You can take a look at some of her other in-depth articles here and here

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Pre-concert rituals: Stephen Hough

Professional musicians often spend much of their lives on the road performing in concert venues around the globe. Amid the hectic travel schedules, rehearsals, practice time and adjustments to a different time zone, culture and climate, regular routine is sacrificed. We ask our guest artists to share what pre-concert rituals help keep them grounded. Pianist, polymath, and Renaissance man, Stephen Hough gives us a peek into how he prepares for a show.

On the day of a concert, I have morning practice from about 10:30 to 1 PM. Then a substantial lunch, sushi is a favorite, and if a pudding is irresistible only a bite (or two). Then a walk, ideally somewhere where the spirit can soar, so a park, a museum, a surging cityscape. Then a nap, bedclothes thrown back, as if nighttime with the curtains firmly closed, phones unplugged, pillows fluffed, and unconsciousness for at least an hour. I set the alarm clock and at about two hours before the concert, I am out of bed. Then, with the kettle on, I travel with my own and the best tea bags I can find. I also usually just eat half a cookie to lift the mood a little. I Shower at full throttle–it takes the same time to brew a cup of tea as it does to wash your hair. I sip my mug of strong tea as I check emails. Then, dressed, I head over to the hall. I like to arrive about an hour before I’m due onstage. I like gentle, calm backstage practicing, most often on pieces other than the ones I’m playing that night. Then into concert clothes about ten minutes before going out from the wings. I hear the applause as I am bowing, then sitting on the bench, adjusting the stool, deep breath and…hands to keys, which is why I’m there in the first place.

But then there are the occasions when none of the above is possible. And, strangely, those are often the best concerts. Ah, the frustration and joy of the glorious unpredictability of being human!

Learn more about this amazing pianist in this video!

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Family fun at the symphony!

When you think of family fun, what do you think of? For us, we think about our family nights at the symphony and opera! If you’ve never taken your kids to the symphony, it might seem a little daunting, but it’s absolutely worth it. A Utah family, Darrell and Marissa along with their children, had the opportunity to attend our Messiah Sing-in this year and loved it. Read on to see how much fun it was for them and their kids.

Tells us about your family.

We are Darrell and Marissa, and we have 4 children Gabe (12), Sam (9), Lauren (7), and Peter (2).

As a family, we enjoy the outdoors – hiking, biking, running, camping; and we also a love for music. All three of our older children play the piano, as well as their mother. As teenagers, both Marissa and I sang in a choir for 5+ plus years. Music is always being played or listened to in our home.

What concert did you attend?

The Messiah Sing-in concert. It was great to have such great seats for the kids to sit and enjoy the concert. It was great to be able to sing along with the choir on the specific choral pieces. After singing it in high school, Marissa and I forgot how quickly it moves along! It was great for the kids to participate in something so synonymous with the holiday season!

How did you enjoy the performance?

We loved the performance! Great way to start off the holiday season. Our kids also loved it. A couple of the songs were familiar to them but it was good for them to be able to hear the entire Messiah. They were amazed at how thick the book was to it.

As a parent, what was the biggest benefit to taking your kids to the symphony?

The biggest benefit of taking kids to the symphony is to expose them to and have them appreciate classical music—music that has been around for centuries and will be around for centuries more. Everyone should know what the classics are. Taking my children to these types of events also helps them to understand how to act differently, if you will, more appropriately during such events. Helps them know what is respect and how to show it.

Would you ever take them to the symphony again?

Yes, we would take our kids to the symphony again! Because they are all taking music from a teacher, this just gives them one more opportunity to learn more about music and how it affects our lives.

If your idea of fun is a night out at the symphony, learn more about Family Nights and our special family pricing here!

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Pre-concert rituals: Conrad Tao

Professional musicians often spend much of their lives on the road performing in concert venues around the globe. Amid the hectic travel schedules, rehearsals, practice time and adjustments to a different time zone, culture and climate, regular routine is sacrificed. We ask our guest artists to share what pre-concert rituals help keep them grounded. Pianist and all-around creative genius, Conrad Tao, tells us about his pre-concert rituals in the best way he knows how: with poetry.

I’m still figuring out my pre-concert ritual.


Are you frightened of
Ninety minutes
Three varieties
Lots of water
green room coffee and the
archetypal banana


Last fall I got stuck in an elevator. This was in Ottawa, on a show day with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, a matinee on which I was performing two concerti, one by Schumann and one by Beethoven (the Emperor), and this was just past noon, after morning rehearsal and a mediocre lunch from a place whose name I don’t recall and this is all to say that I was looking forward to getting a half hour or so of silence in my hotel room, before changing into concert dress. The hotel elevator was about a half of a floor away from my floor when it kachunked into stillness. I loved every one of the fifty minutes I spent in that elevator. I was glad I was alone. I was so thoroughly tickled by this less-orthodox iteration of my usual preconcert enforcement of silence. I would not have been good company for someone with claustrophobia.


As an apology the hotel brought me a fruit basket

This story will I be remembering slightly with a position of “this is why,” perceived

origin perhaps, because I don’t like going through the motions, that much is true

But I mourn the absence of ritual in my life at the risk of careless romanticizing

and sometimes I wonder if I don’t have enough discipline

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