Leonard Bernstein’s life in music comes to SSU

Composer, conductor, and insomniac are a few titles commonly used to describe the artist Leonard Bernstein. 

Despite his inability to get a decent night’s rest, he thrived and became a renowned individual in the orchestral music community. 

According to Jamie Bernstein, Bernstein’s daughter, “While most of the world was asleep, he would be awake composing.”

Jamie said this at a Dec. 1 event called “Late Night with Leonard Bernstein,” which was held at the Green Music Center. 

Musicians such as soprano singer Amy Burton, along with pianists Michael Boriskin and John Musto, accompanied Jamie at this multimedia show.

The show focused on celebrating what would have been Bernstein’s 100th year of life. 

Bernstein passed away at the age of 72 in 1990, but his works and influence continue to live on, particularly in the classical music and Broadway communities.

As the event’s title suggests, late night hours seemed to be when Bernstein would reach his peak inspiration and creativity levels. 

Bernstein’s nocturnal habits routinely began during his college years, something many students of today could probably relate to. 

Instead of sleep, Bernstein’s late hours were occupied by attending parties and practicing his craft. 

Whenever an empty piano was in sight, Bernstein would jump at the opportunity to show off his talents on the keys. 

According to his daughter and colleagues, Bernstein had a very charismatic, extroverted personality which attracted party-goers and led them to huddle around him at the piano. Besides providing a brief profile of who Bernstein was, the event also invited the audience to gain a personal insight into the composer’s insomniac mind. 

Jamie shared an audio recording that revealed a hidden treasure of Bernstein’s. The late artist was composing for a Broadway show he and his choreographer colleague Jerome Robbins were collaborating on. 

Hearing Bernstein himself speak about changes for the arrangement, as well as critiques he hoped Robbins could assist with, was a pleasant surprise for the audience. 

Jamie, who showed some of her father’s more exuberant personality traits, was also able to share a video of her father playing the piano and singing, rather off-key, to Marc Blitzstein’s “Zipperfly.” 

After the audience heard about what Jamie called Bernstein’s “warmth and goofy tenderness,” the video helped them visualize his spirit. 

“The show was so intimate, it felt as if we were in [Jamie’s] living room,” Robert Tully, a Bernstein fan, said. 

To close the event, the featured artists performed a couple of Bernstein’s lullabies because, according to Jamie, “Even for an insomniac, there is a bedtime at some point,” she said.

“I enjoyed that the show took a different take on his music and delved deeper into his life,” Philippe Cumia, another Bernstein fan, said.