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GRAMMY Salute To Classical Music Salutes Leonard Bernstein, "West Side Story"
There are a variety of delightful ways to spend a chilly Friday afternoon in New York. But taking in a matinee performance at Carnegie Hall just might rank at the top of the list.
With GRAMMY Week kicking into high gear, the famed New York venue played host to the GRAMMY Salute To Classical Music, a program paying tribute to — as co-host Lang Lang described — one of the "greatest American musicians": legendary composer Leonard Bernstein. The event doubled as one of the 2,500 programs commemorating the composer's 100th birthday.
The location couldn't have been more appropriate as co-host Jamie Bernstein, and daughter of Leonard Bernstein, explained her father "conducted hundreds of concerts" at Carnegie Hall.
The brisk menu of performances was predominantly comprised of selections from Bernstein's incomparable "West Side Story," a musical that is not only arguably the 16-time GRAMMY winner's benchmark but is very much a timeless capsule of New York City given its storyline takes place in the Upper West Side neighborhood.
"My father believed in the power of music to promote peace and brotherhood, which inspired the music of 'West Side Story,'" said Jamie Bernstein.
Kicking off the proceedings was "Overture To Candide," a piece Bernstein composed for the 1956 operetta "Candide." The lilting number was given a fresh interpretation by a sextet of young pianists, Chelsea Guo, Eden Chen, Maxim Lando, Elliot Wuu, Clayton Stephenson, and Kimberly Han — all of whom are prodigies affiliated with Lang Lang's International Music Foundation, which is dedicated to ensuring children have access to music education.
The sound of nylon strings filled the hall as classical guitarist Pablo Sáinz Villegas plucked his way through two dynamic Francisco Tárrega pieces, "Memories Of Alhambra" and "Gran Jota De Concierto." The nimble-fingered Villegas also played a trio of selections from "West Side Story," including the romantic "Maria."
Vocalist Kiana Ledé brought some authentic Broadway-esque bravado to the proceedings with a reading of the upbeat "100 Easy Ways To Lose A Man," a selection from Bernstein's music to 1953's "Wonderful Town."
The trio Time For Three — violinists Nick Kendall and Charles Yang and double bassist Ranaan Meyer — performed an inventive arrangement of "Something's Coming" from "West Side Story."
Current GRAMMY nominee Ledisi showcased an operatic side of her voice. The R&B singer performed a song about "unadulterated joy," "A Simple Song" from Bernstein's 1971 theater work, "Mass." Ledisi punctuated her performance with fist pumps as she walked off stage.
Jamie Bernstein explained that her father wrote the next song as a "plea for all of us to keep our country honest and open-hearted." Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, an acclaimed singer who "grew up listening to the music of Bernstein," helmed the aptly titled "Take Care Of This House" from Bernstein's "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" (named after the address of the White House). Accompanied by pianist Michael Barrett, Leonard's voice resonated to the hall's upper balcony.
"[This is] one of the most moving pieces ever wrote by Bernstein," Lang Lang explained as he introduced the finale, "Somewhere" from "West Side Story."
With Lang Lang joined by singers from the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts Chorus, the moving number — and its sentiment of "there's a place for us, somewhere a place for us" — seemed a perfect way to pull the curtain on the day's celebration of Bernstein and classical music.