Alexander Bernstein Celebrates the Maestro, Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was perhaps the most influential figure in American classical music in the last half of the twentieth century. Composer, conductor, author, lecturer and often controversial media personality, the American-born Bernstein had a dramatic impact on the popular audience's acceptance and appreciation of classical music. His own work as a composer, particularly his scores for such Broadway musicals as West Side Story and On the Town, helped forge a new relationship between classical and popular music.
On April 29, Dr. Bert Konowitz, Adjunct Professor in the Arts and Humanities Department, hosted the program, "Leonard Bernstein: Teacher," with Alexander Bernstein, the son of the great teacher. Craig Urquhart, the Maestro's personal assistant, and varied performers including the Syosset High School Orchestra, also offered a dynamic range of Bernstein's compositions, original works, improvisations and recollections. The concert was held at Horace Mann Auditorium.
Alexander Bernstein narrated an orchestral piece composed by Konowitz called "In the Spirit of Leonard Bernstein." Some of the lyrics read, "He was music, he was song, he was poetry, he drew the children in, the children came to him, they came to play with him."
Dr. Ron Odrich, Leonard Bernstein's dentist and a well-known clarinetist, performed "Leonardo's Vision." According to Odrich, on a visit to his office Leonard Bernstein noticed an eye chart hanging on the wall. The chart had musical notations as well as letters in its design. Bernstein wrote down the notes and later wrote them into a line for solo clarinet. He titled it "Visione Fugitava" and sent the manuscript as a gift to Odrich. On Bernstein's death, Odrich and his composer-partner recorded Visions which included "Leonardo's Vision," a set of variations for clarinet and piano exploring the musical theme that Bernstein had culled from the eye chart.
Alexander Bernstein, who is a former teacher at the Packer-Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, is now Director of the Bernstein Family Foundation, a non-profit foundation dedicated to encouraging the love of learning by means of the arts.
Asked why his father was such a master teacher, Alexander Bernstein said, "It could have come from the rabbinical tradition in our family. He seemed to teach in everything he did-not in a didactic way-but he was always trying to share something he felt was important. Also, he was so open to every influence and wanted to learn more himself, which is a quality of a great teacher."
"Central to my father's teaching," Alexander Bernstein said in an interview, "was his belief that education be concerned not merely with imparting received knowledge, but in cultivating a lifelong appetite for new discovery. In particular he was keen to demonstrate that the life processes of the arts both draw on and illuminate learning in a variety of academic disciplines."
Questioned what he, Alexander Bernstein, has in common with his father, Bernstein said, "I think the love of learning and teaching. I know I got a deep sense of social justice from him."
To this end, the Bernstein Family Foundation Fund has been active both in New York and nationally, concentrating particularly on the Leonard Bernstein Center for Education Through the Arts.
The goal of the Leonard Bernstein Center is to research, develop, and sustain school practices that are inspired by Bernstein's legacy as an artist, teacher, and scholar and to support a new approach to education that fosters a life-long love of learning in all children.
Published Tuesday, Sep. 18, 2001