JSO Season Celebrates 100 Years of Leonard Bernstein

Aug 1, 2018

Throughout August, the classical music world will be celebrating a century since the birth of Leonard Bernstein. In the upcoming 2018-19 Jackson Symphony Orchestra season, rather than a concert dedicated to Lenny, music director Dr. Matthew Aubin had a grander question to answer.


"Could we weave in who he was as a person, who he was to American Music throughout each of our 5 concerts." says Dr. Aubin. "So, that's what we're doing. On the first concert, basically Bernstein the Conductor; second concert - Bernstein the Educator; third concert - Bernstein the Composer; fourth concert - Bernstein the Performer; and fifth concert - Bernstein the Humanitarian."

For the first concert, dealing with Bernstein the conductor, one of his loves was for the composer Gustav Mahler whose music Bernstein nearly single-handedly revived an interest in. And so Aubin will lead a performance of Mahler’s 4th Symphony with the JSO.

"The second concert," says Dr. Aubin, "rather than recreating a 'Young People's Concert,' I'm taking pieces that basically represent different themes of his 'Young People's Concert.' So, for example, he really championed young performers, so I have a violist from New York City that's younger. I have a young composer from Michigan, who's a cellist from Michigan who's a cellist in the Detroit Symphony, Jeremy Crosmer who's writing a concertino for her. And that's our young performer. We're doing unusual instruments of the orchestra, we'll do blue cathedral by Jennifer Higdon."

[music excerpt from Higdon's blue cathedral]

The third concert of the Jackson Symphony season deals with Bernstein the composer. So, Dr. Aubin chose West Side Story and On The Town as bookends for another idea of Bernstein’s composing. "But then," he explains "I'm going to do a piece by Copland: Letter from Home. It's a short work, not a lot of people know it. And, you know, Copland in a way was a mentor to Bernstein as a composer. And then, I have a friend of mine who's a composer and is both a classical and a jazz musician, and he wrote a jazz piano concerto for Willis Delony from LSU. He's on faculty at LSU and they premiered it with the Baton Rouge Symphony with [Lansing Symphony's] Tim Muffitt and he's been inspired by Bernstein and I thought, why not take another composer and just kind of show the thread there?"

"Bernstein the performer, [the fourth concert,] I'm kind of proud of myself with this one." says Dr. Aubin. "We'll do the Beethoven 1st Piano Concerto which Bernstein conducted from the keyboard a lot, and opening on the 1st half, I'm actually going to do Haydn's 88th Symphony. So, he famously conducted it with his head and his eyebrows as an encore with the Vienna Philharmonic and so: Bernstein the performer."

[Excerpt from Bernstein conducting Haydn's 88th Symphony with his head.]

"And then the last concert is extremely important." says Dr. Aubin of the season finale concert. "You know, we all know in 1989 when the Berlin wall fell down, Bernstein came in and conducted a group of musicians from both sides of Germany in a performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, but he changed [it], instead of 'Ode to Joy,' it became 'Ode to Freedom.' So, I thought, you know, what's a better piece to end the season then Beethoven 9?"

Dr. Matthew Aubin and the Jackson Symphony are getting ready for their 5 signature series concerts celebrating various aspects of Leonard Bernstein as part of their 2018-19 season. Tickets and more information are available at JacksonSymphony.org