On Sunday, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony Orchestra will pay tribute to one of America’s most iconic composer-conductors Leonard Bernstein on the centennial of his birth. “Bernstein@100” will be performed at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center and feature cellist Isaac Pastor-Chermak and flutist Claudia Anderson, along with the Northern Iowa Youth Orchestra and Northern Iowa Children’s Choir.
Bernstein, who died in 1990, was the renowned conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and composer of music for orchestras, as well as stage, ballet, opera, choral, chamber and the big screen.
“Bernstein was one of the greatest American musicians. He has such name recognition because of music like ‘West Side Story.’ In a recent study of most frequently performed composers, he always sits near the top of the list,” said Jason Weinberger, Pauline Barrett artistic director and conductor.
“We want to help keep his legacy alive, and this is also a chance to introduce a new generation to a composer who truly advanced the cause of music,” he explained.
For Anderson, the concert evokes personal memories of her experiences as a young musician performing under Bernstein’s baton. In the summer of 1971, Anderson had just graduated from the University of Michigan and been accepted into the student orchestra at Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts. The conductor was Leonard Bernstein.
“That summer Bernstein was completing his Mass for the public opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. He said, ‘Would you like to audition for one of the spots on my Mass.’ There were two of us he wanted to audition for onstage parts. We ended up going to New York City for rehearsals, then to Washington, then recording the Mass at Columbia Records,” Anderson said.
The Mass had been commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in memory of John F. Kennedy, and is described by the Kennedy Center as “an exhilarating religious and musical masterpiece.” When the Mass premiered in September 1971, there were more than 200 performers in the orchestra, a rock band, a blues band, 18 soloists, 80 chorus singers and 45 dancer-singers.
“It was one full, bright month of intense excitement, and then it was over. It was years afterwards that I thought, ‘Wow! That is something that made history.’ I’d grown up watching his Young People’s Concerts, and here he was, this mega star conducting an orchestra I was in,” Anderson said.
She describes Bernstein as an “amazing conductor … that was his biggest gift. I remember coming into rehearsal and he was casually sitting on a stool, chatting with everyone, then suddenly, he raised his arm in this gesture that everyone immediately understood. It was so natural, and his whole body became the music. He had such innate musicality. I haven’t experienced anything like it since.”
During the Columbia recording session, Anderson made a wrong entrance on her part. “He never yelled at anyone. He simply looked at me and said, ‘Claudia …’ in this long sigh, like it was a personal disappointment. I remember feeling awful about it,” the flutist said.
Anderson, principal flutist with the symphony, is a former member of the University of Northern Iowa faculty and is now at Grinnell College. She has released albums as a founding member of the innovative flute duo ZAWA! and “This World” as a solo artist.
She will perform Bernstein’s flute solo “Halil: Nocturne.”
“I feel so fortunate to have started my career by working with one of the icons of the 20th century, and taking that with me throughout my career. To be part of this tribute is like having a bit of Bernstein with me as all these memories and images flood back.”
Bernstein’s works include “West Side Story,” “Peter Pan,” “A Wonderful Town” and “On the Town,” orchestral compositions, the score of the 1954 Oscar-winning film, “On the Waterfront” and the operetta “Candide.”
The orchestra’s program will include the overture from “A Wonderful Town,” symphonic dances from “West Side Story,” and orchestral and choral music. Scott Cawelti will be narrator.
The Northern Iowa Youth Orchestra, the only non-school youth orchestra in the Cedar Valley, is composed of students in grades 7-12, performing under the direction of Director John Chiles and Weinberger. The Northern Iowa Children’s Choir directed by Michelle Swanson, features students in grades 3 to 9.