Concerts celebrating the centennial of the birth of Leonard Bernstein are common these days, as he was born on Aug. 25, 1918. But an all-Bernstein concert with a direct link to one of Orange County’s most iconic musical figures is not.
The Pacific Symphony has such a direct link: Carl St.Clair will conduct the orchestra in “Bernstein @ 100” for three evenings beginning Oct. 25 at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
St.Clair studied with the legendary conductor-composer-pianist-lecturer-author, who is perhaps known to most as the composer of “West Side Story.” But there is so much more to the man — and St.Clair knows this first hand.
“It was with great anticipation that I met him, and he put me at ease right away,” said St.Clair, whom Bernstein called “my cowboy,” due to St.Clair's origins (born and raised in Texas).
The two met in 1985 at the Tanglewood Music Festival in the Berkshire Music Center in Lenox, Mass., the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra where Bernstein taught St.Clair, one of a number of conducting students.
“Every minute we were around Leonard Bernstein was like getting a lesson,” St.Clair said. “Lessons about self-discovery, self-reflection, looking inside oneself. We experienced his energy, his love, his passion for life. They were life lessons, not just music lessons. And as these were the last years of his life, he was so willing to be open and share his experiences. I was so privileged to get to know him … on several tours of Europe together and on the last concert he ever conducted.”
That was at Tanglewood on Aug. 19, 1990, with Bernstein conducting Britten and Beethoven and St.Clair conducting the world premiere of Bernstein's newly reorchestrated “Arias and Barcarolles,” his last work.
Bernstein, who suffered a coughing seizure during the Beethoven piece (but managed to finish), died of a heart attack brought on by lung disease almost two months later on Oct. 14 at the age of 72.
To honor his friend and mentor, St.Clair has planned an all-Bernstein program — without a “West Side Story” number in sight.
“I wanted to show the wide breadth and scope of his compositional output,” he said.
Thus, there are Bernstein's jazz, instrumental, choral and musical sides represented. The concert opens with “Prelude, Fugue and Riffs,” which shows Bernstein’s jazz and big band side. This is followed by "Serenade (after Plato's 'Symposium')," an all-instrumental 1954 work which premiered in Venice, Italy, and 1965’s "Chichester Psalms," the full-scale choral-orchestral Bernstein.
"And we finish with a collection of songs that go back to his roots," St.Clair said, referring to Bernstein's start as a composer for Broadway shows.
The collection includes songs from “Wonderful Town,” “Candide” and the aforementioned “Arias and Barcarolles.”
“He taught us many lessons,” St.Clair said of the man born Louis Bernstein. “Above all, he'd say, have passion and honesty in your music-making, a sense of purpose and serve the composer's intentions ... The playing field is much wider than you think. Just open your eyes and open your hearts and envision it.”
IF YOU GO
What: "Bernstein @ 100"
Who: Conductor: Carl St.Clair, Pacific Symphony: Augustin Hadelich, violin; Celena Shafer, soprano; Joseph Morris, clarinet; Angel Garcia, boy soprano; with the Pacific Chorale
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 25 to 27
Where: Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
Cost: Tickets start at $35