John Williams Leonard Bernstein
John Williams with Leonard Bernstein. Photo by BSO Archives

The Boston Symphony Orchestra is throwing a huge party in honor of Leonard Bernstein this weekend, celebrating the legend's 100th birthday.

Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor Andris Nelson, Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart and dozens of other musicians from orchestras around the world will perform at Tanglewood in the Berkshires on Saturday, Aug. 25, as part of a grand tribute in honor of the music icon's centennial celebration. The star-studded guest includes cellist Yo-Yo Ma, vocalist Audra McDonald, plus members of the New York Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, Pacific Music Festival and Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, all organizations that were important to Bernstein throughout his career. 

Lockhart tells Metro that this event is the culmination of a worldwide celebration of Bernstein's legacy this year, with concerts performed in his honor from the Czech Republic to Norway. 

Keith Lockhart talks Leonard Bernstein centennial show

Keith Lockhart Leonard Bernstein


"There have been thousands of Bernstein concerts linked to the centennial, all around the world," says Lockhart. "This concert is probably the biggest, grandest of all of them and has the widest roster."

This particular Tanglewood show holds extra meaning because it will take place on the day of Bernstein's birthday in a place that was so meaningful to him for a half century. The late composer and Massachusetts native held a number of conducting classes at Tanglewood in 1940, and conducted one of the last concerts of his life at the venue in 1990.

Lockhart will be conducting "Kaddish 2," a movement from Bernstein's third symphony. He says he learned a lot from Bernstein, who was a unique presence in the world of conducting in the mid-to-late 20th century.

"He was in a profession that is known for being stodgy and old. He was young and electric and good-looking and an American, which was an anomaly too," Lockart says. "There were very few American performers who had that wide of a worldwide following."

The conductor's connection to Boston runs strong. A native of Lawrence, the first orchestral concert Bernstein attended was a Boston Pops show in 1933. The very first time he conducted a professional orchestra was also on the podium with the Pops. Lockhart notes that Bernstein maintained a lifelong connection to that orchestra. 

"His interpretations of things, whether or not I or others always agreed with them, were always electrifying. They were always idiomatic. They were always his," Lockhart says. "All of us learned a lot from Bernstein. Almost as important as his skills in being a conductor or a performer were his skills in being a spokesman for music and the performing arts. He could speak to anybody, to Harvard [students] and kindergarteners and everybody in between and be incredibly compelling."

Will the composer's legacy be remembered just as fondly 100 years from now? Lockhart admits that remains to be seen.

"I think Bernstein certainly stands as great of a chance as any composer in my lifetime of remaining part of the canon of great music," Lockhart says. "[His is a] a unique voice. It’s an original voice. I guess we’ll see."

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