Word was out: The New York Philharmonic was set to make its debut to the University for their second major residency in honor of Leonard Bernstein. Upon their arrival, the NY Philharmonic had more than twenty various educational and community engagement activities planned for both students on campus and those of the larger community as well. Before attending the Young People’s Concert, I had the opportunity of attending the lecture held by the University Musical Society’s current president, Matthew VanBesien and Deborah Borda, President and CEO of NY Philharmonic. This discussion was driven by the topic of Leadership, Innovation, and the Business of Running an Orchestra. It was a packed room full of faculty, students, and UMS affiliates. With the energy and excitement elicited from those in the room, I could not wait to finally attend one of their mainstage performances!
Come the big day (Saturday), the weather was dreary and raining vigorously…not an ideal day for attending a world-renowned concert, as one may imagine. Though, my enthusiasm was not shot down a single bit! Upon arriving, I was thoroughly pleased with the sight of so many young faces and people of color. This was something that I could truly appreciate, as it is of mutual understanding (and a prominent goal mentioned by Ms. Borda) to shift the majority orchestra concert goers from older individuals to a more diverse audience.
Moving along, the concert’s primary purpose was to celebrate Leonard Bernstein. In a roundabout way, the show itself was a rendition of episodes performed by Bernstein himself. It was set up like an interactive lesson, rather, somewhat like a game show with a host and commentary/history of selected pieces in between each performance. We were even presented with a special guest: one of Leonard Bernstein’s daughters! In conjunction with testaments to her own stories of childhood, there were also members of the orchestra that accounted for early memories of Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts.
We are told that Bernstein was a man of many roles: a father, conductor, composer, and so forth. The program was composed of excerpts from Bernstein’s Candide, Three Dance Episodes from On the Town, “The Age of Anxiety,” Symphony No. 2, “Jeremiah,” Symphony No. 1, and West Side Story. The most audience participation came from the very last piece, Mambo. Throughout the performances, the host and conductor, Leonard Slatkin, took various efforts to involve the audience. During Mambo, we were given the exclusive role of synchronously shouting “Mambo!” when given our cue.
I found the excerpts from West Side Story to be a special treat. In addition to hearing more upbeat tunes and jazzy compositions, we were given pieces from the Broadway musical! With two special guests, U-M alumni were welcomed to the stage to aide in performing “Maria,” “I Feel Pretty,” and the “Balcony Scene.” Surprisingly enough, it felt as though I was watching the musical itself while simultaneously viewing what would be the orchestra pit during the show. All in all, the New York Philharmonic’s residency this year was an unforgettable experience, with much recognition given to the University Musical Society for hosting them.