Dallas — On August 25 of this year, Leonard Bernstein would have turned 100 years old. In honor of his centenary, orchestras and opera companies throughout the country are creating programs of his music. The Fort Worth Symphony performed a three-day Bernstein Centennial Festival in August. The Santa Fe Opera staged Bernstein’s opera Candide. The Boston Symphony themed its summer residency at Tanglewood on Bernstein’s music.
The Dallas Symphony’s contribution to all of these festivities was more modest: a single weekend of all-Bernstein Pops concerts with Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik. However, the weekend included a visit from Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie Bernstein, with a special brief performance by the orchestra and talk by Jamie Bernstein on Saturday morning.
As befits a pops concert, the program was entirely Bernstein’s more accessible work. The orchestra began with a fine performance of the Overture to Candide, then soprano Nadine Sierra joined the orchestra for “Glitter and Be Gay,” an aria from the same opera. She has a magnificent voice, with a clear high register and a huge range, but as with most pops vocalists, Sierra was amplified, seemingly unnecessarily—I’d like to hear her voice in its natural state. David Matthews on English Horn and Ann Marie Brink on viola provided especially outstanding solos.
Many of the works on the program were familiar ones: “I Feel Pretty” and “Somewhere” from West Side Story, again with soloist Nadine Sierra, and a magnificent performance of the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, featuring the DSO’s brass and percussion sections in all their considerable glory, with a fabulously swinging muted solo from Associate Principal Trumpet Russell Campbell in “Cool.”
Others, however, might be slightly less well-known to some audience members: Three Dance Variations from Fancy Free, Three Dance Episodes from On the Town, the Overture to Wonderful Town, and “Take Care of This House,” a song from Bernstein’s notorious 1976 Broadway flop 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, about the White House, its early occupants, and race relations. Someone should tell these folks that musicals about the Founding Fathers and racial identity are a hard sell.
The most interesting piece on the program was one of the 12 songs from Bernstein’s 1977 Songfest, a celebration of 13 American poets, representing 300 years of American poetic heritage. The song chosen was 20th century Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos’ “A Julia de Burgos.” A decidedly quirky translation of the original Spanish by Bernstein’s daughter Jamie was provided in the program notes. Soloist Nadine Sierra again proved her mettle in this, the only piece on the program from Bernstein’s “serious” repertoire. Perhaps in some future season, the DSO will program all of Songfest, which is a piece too little performed.
And perhaps for that performance, I won’t be seated in front of a couple who whisper in each other’s ears for the entirety of the concert. (Seriously, how people can talk through a very fine performance of “Somewhere,” which is one of the most beautiful songs ever written, I have no idea. But now I know, it is possible.)