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A Tribute to Leonard Bernstein in Somerville, Massachusetts

November 12, 2011 in Cambridge, Leonard Bernstein, Music

Leonard Bernstein was born and raised in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where his family ran a bookstore. He studied in Boston and Cambridge, as well as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In New York City he became known as a producer, in Vienna and Israel he was touted as one of the world’s greatest conductors; it was Tanglewood, however, to which Bernstein would “come home” to perform the work, and foster the friendships, that helped shape who he was as a person.

Cynthia Woods, Music Director of the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra and acclaimed international guest conductor, sheds light on the importance of Place in Leonard Bernstein’s life and career.

While Bernstein had long standing associations with many orchestras and areas–New York, Vienna, Israel–his lifelong relationship with Tanglewood, Massachusetts, stands out as one of the most defining places and experiences of his life.

Leonard Bernstein was accepted into the Tanglewood program in 1940 by Serge Koussevitzky, the iconic conductor and director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at that time. Bernstein had already finished his studies at Curtis with Fritz Reiner, another major influence, but it would be his time spent studying with Koussevitzky that would shape the public persona that everyone would come to know; the flair for the dramatic, the commitment to new music, and a love of teaching became principals that defined him for the rest of his life. It would also be at Tanglewood that first summer where Bernstein would meet another of his greatest friends and musical influences, Aaron Copland.

Bernstein maintained a relationship with Tanglewood for the rest of his life, eventually taking over for Serge Koussevitzky, teaching young conductors and composers, and leading the BSO in their summer season. It would also be at Tanglewood that he would “come home” to give his final concert. On August 19, 1990, Bernstein gave his final concert, almost collapsing on stage from a coughing fit, forcing himself to continue on and giving one of his greatest performances. All of his friends and family say that he knew it would be his final performance. He would die a few weeks later on October 14, 1990.

The Cambridge Symphony Orchestra is playing A Tribute to Leonard Bernstein, Sunday November 13, 2011, at 4:00PM at the Somerville High School on Highland Avenue.

The program includes the Overture to Candide, an operetta composed by Bernstein in 1956, based on the satirical novella by French philosopher Voltaire; a sweet and compelling orchestration of West Side Story, which premiered on Broadway in 1957; and in excellent contrast, Symphony No. 3 by early Romantic composer, Robert Schumann.

Please join us for a beautiful program and a historical, musical tribute to Leonard Bernstein—the places that influenced him, and indeed, the places influenced by him.

Rachel Blaustein And The Poetry Of Israel

July 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

Photo by Dorit SassonIsrael holds a very special place in the American cultural consciousness.  For many, it is a holy land, a promised place where they will finally be accepted.  It is a place for pilgrimages and coming-of-age visits.  This idea is perhaps best encapsulated in the program “Birth Right,” which provides funds for young Jewish-Americans to visit the Middle Eastern country.  This Israel is somewhat of a utopia, made even more dream-like and perfect by its distance, by our infrequent visits.

However, there is another Israel.  This Israel is real; it is the stuff of politics and war, battlegrounds both actual and ideological.  The beauty of the country is made no less by its contentious political position, but, as Dorit Sasson points out in our newest feature article, there is a schism between the various visions of the country.

In a sense, this schism can be traced down to Israel’s rich past.  This is a country seeped with tradition and history.  It is a place of poetry and song.  In order to understand her view of Israel more fully, Sasson returns to a poem of her childhood, “V’Ulai” by Rachel Blaustein.  For her, the gentle poem speaks to the different versions of Israel, the Utopian image, the longing for a dream that never has been, and the reality of a place unfinished, imperfect.

Though I have never been to Israel, reading Sasson’s article, I am reminded of another great poet of Israel: Yehuda Amichai.  Amichai was born in Germany, but he spent most of his life living in Israel (both the real country and the dream-land).  Like Blaustein, much of his poetry is about his relationship to the relatively-new motherland, but in contrast to Rachel, Yehuda’s poetry is often not fit for children.  Indeed, his poetry for Jerusalem often reads like love poetry, words written by a man to a woman.  While I cannot speak for Israel, I will always remember Amichai’s words about Jerusalem:

But he who loves Jerusalem
By the tourist book or the prayer book
is like one who loves a woman
By a manual of sex positions.

Join us in nostalgia and melancholy this week by checking out Rachel Blaustein’s Kinneret, A Child’s Poem of Israel.

Friday Links: Book News From Around The Internet

April 2, 2010 in Uncategorized

Photo from Out of PrintEvery Friday, the staff at Literary Traveler gathers up the relevant book news from around the web, bringing it together in a handy post for book lovers to peruse.  Enjoy!

  • Short story writers, get your pens ready (or laptops, as the case may be) for NPR’s “Three Minute Fiction Contest.”  They’re looking for pieces of original prose including the words plant, button, trick, and fly.  Submissions will be judged by Ann Patchett, and are due by April 11th.
  • Good news for independent bookstores: Obama is a fan!  Our president made a surprise stop at Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City this week to pick up a couple of children’s books for his daughters.  And the LA Times even has a video!
  • In case you hadn’t heard, April is Poetry Month.  Take a moment to honor the occasion by stepping outside your normal reading zone and trying out poets from around the world.  I plan to start by reading the works of Yehuda Amichai, one of my new favorite writers and Israel’s greatest modern poet.
  • You have to respect horror author Joe Hill for his recent success, especially considering his legacy.  Hill, whose real name is Joseph Hillstrom King, didn’t want to write under the shadow of his father.  “I felt there was a danger – real danger – in coming out as the son of Stephen King if I couldn’t sell it under the pen name, if it wasn’t good enough,” Hill explained.  Judge for yourself by picking up a copy of his second novel, Horns.
  • Can science be used to explain literature?  Some literary theorists believe so.  University English departments are increasingly turning to the “hard” sciences to better understand the way we read, write, and think.  Interested in the intersection?  The New York Times has it covered.
  • And finally, wear your love of books on your sleeve with these wonderful literary t-shirts.  You can purchase my personal favorite  here.
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