Book review: ‘Famous Father Girl’ by Jamie Bernstein

Being the child of Leonard Bernstein was like having a nuclear blast for a dad. You practically had to stand back and wear protective goggles when he came into a room, and even then the gale wind and blinding light were hard to withstand. The aftereffects of Lenny radiation included a sense of worthlessness (or at least that one had little talent), sexual confusion and a certain rudderless direction in life. Still, all three of his children apparently adored him, and he adored them back, sometimes to excess. It wasn’t the worst childhood if you were Leonard Bernstein’s kid, but it certainly could be odd and overwhelming.

Just in time for the centenary comes “Famous Father Girl” by Jamie Bernstein, the oldest of the Bernstein children. It’s a “Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein” and well done too. There’s a certain built-in page-turning quality to the story if you know anything about Leonard Bernstein at all. You know that, as you read, you’re moving ever closer to the lurid and tragic last decade of his life. Jamie Bernstein heightens that feeling by telling her story chronologically and revealing details about her father, and mother (the actress Felicia Montealegre), as they became known to her. So the early chapters of “Famous Father Girl” are fairly idyllic, told from the standpoint of a young girl basking in the glow of her parents’ love and success and fame.

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A visit to Pacific Symphony’s music library

You go in the artists’ entrance at Segerstrom Concert Hall, walk past the security guard behind the window (once you get the OK), enter the first door on the right and head down two flights of stairs. You’re in the basement now, walking down a long concrete hallway in low light when, on the right, you come upon this plaque.

It’s the library of Pacific Symphony. Step inside and it’s a cozy and quiet little place.

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Meet Michael Clive, Pacific Symphony’s program annotator

By Erica Sharp

“Sometimes as a joke I refer to myself as ‘your intrepid annotator,’” said Michael Clive, longtime program note writer for Pacific Symphony, in an interview last week. He had just arrived back at his Connecticut home and grabbed a cup of coffee, ready now for a chat on the phone.

Clive was referring to a Symphony Magazine piece written about his style of program note writing during his early years with Pacific Symphony. “The premise of that article is that program notes were taking a new direction. They were becoming less formal and more interesting.”

Though he had done some program book writing for regional orchestras as a volunteer when he was 23, Pacific Symphony was officially the first orchestra he wrote program notes for. After Clive’s fellowship at the National Endowment for the Arts for classical music writers, Joseph Horowitz, former artistic advisor of the orchestra, recommended that he contact the Symphony.

From the very start, he was encouraged to take chances in his writing.

“Every time I have written something and thought it was risky, they put it in,” he said. “I said you can take it out if you want, but they have left it.”

Clive obtained his masters of arts degree in music criticism at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University in 1987. At the time he was enrolled at the university he had a job with an advertising agency in New York and was living what he described as “a very corporate” lifestyle.

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Anne Akiko Meyers brings old (expensive) violin and modern attitude to Pacific Symphony

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

Anne Akiko Meyers is bringing the world’s most expensive violin to town to play with Pacific Symphony this week. It has been loaned to her for life by the owner, who bought it in late 2012 for more than $16 million, still the highest price ever paid for a violin. The instrument, made in 1741, is known as the “Vieuxtemps” Guarneri “del Gesù,” named for one of its former owners, the Belgian violinist and composer Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881). He loved the instrument so much that he wanted to be buried with it.

“Its health and security are always the utmost important factors when traveling,” Meyers said of the instrument recently in a phone interview. Nevertheless, she doesn’t seem particularly intimidated by the prospect. She’s had to care for expensive violins, on loan, for most of her career.

“Well, I’ve been really fortunate my whole life,” she said. “I’ve had to rely on the generosity of donors, patrons, foundations and have played on a number of Guarneri “del Jesu”’s and Stradivari violins my entire life. It is totally like you’re walking around with a Matisse or a Picasso or a Monet on your back. It’s our equipment but yet it’s an antique piece of history that can never be repeated again.”

She wants to pass it on to the next player in the same condition is it now, which she characterizes as near perfect, clean and crack-free and without so much as a sound post patch (common in most violins).

She describes its tone quality this way: “It’s like it has dark and milk chocolate and white chocolate all wrapped into one, and it has super deep resonance on the G string — it sounds like a cello — but yet it just has a brilliant E string and it projects like none other because it’s so healthy.”

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Jeanne Skrocki: A violinist flying high

By ERICA SHARP

Jeanne Skrocki remembers a time when she had given up the violin and might not ever play again.

Twenty-five years later, she is the now assistant concertmaster of Pacific Symphony, a spot that seems like it was reserved especially for her, empty for five years before she filled it in 1993. This week, she will be returning home with her daughter, who is also a professional violinist, and the rest of the Symphony from their recent five city tour in China.

Before jetting to China, Skrocki learned that she would lead Pacific Symphony as concertmaster for its first international tour since going to Europe in 2006. Originally, when auditioning for the orchestra in 1992, she placed fourteenth violin.

Before that audition, Skrocki had not practiced the violin for ten years while she was exploring other interests as a college student and after graduation.

“I got the violin out, dusted it off and I started practicing. It was horrible, it was really awful. I couldn’t do anything. It was a solid six months before it even was enjoyable again,” she said. “I just worked really hard, got back into shape, took the audition and here I am now leading the orchestra on tour.”

Skrocki began playing the violin at age five with her mother, renowned violinist and teacher Bonnie Bell. Later, when she turned ten, she began studying with her stepfather, Manuel Compinsky of the famed Compinsky Trio.

When she was eight years old Skrocki remembers other famous musicians coming over to her Los Angeles home to play chamber music with her father almost every week. With this musical upbringing, Skrocki went on to play chamber and then orchestral music as a teenager with various youth orchestras and ensembles.

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Pre-concert talk for Philip Glass concert at Carnegie Hall

(Here’s my pre-concert lecture delivered at 7 p.m. last Saturday in New York. Due to a change in plans, it wasn’t actually given in Carnegie Hall, but across the street in a meeting room at the Park Central Hotel.)

Carnegie talk

Hi everyone,

Welcome to Carnegie Hall. I’m Tim Mangan, Pacific Symphony’s writer-in-residence, and I’m going to give a short talk on the program we’re about to hear, hoping to prepare you for it. But first I’d like to talk a little about Carnegie Hall itself, because it, too, is going to be very much part of the experience.

Carnegie Hall opened on May 5, 1891. The original program had Walter Damrosch conducting the New York Symphony playing “America,” Beethoven’s “Leonore” Overture No. 3 and the New York premiere of Berlioz’s Te Deum, with the Oratorio Society joining. The special guest of the evening was Tchaikovsky. Damrosch had wanted him to compose a new march for the occasion, but instead he just used his Coronation March that he wrote for the coronation of Tsar Alexander III, giving it a different title, Marche solennelle, hoping that no one would notice that it was an earlier piece. Tchaikovsky conducted it himself that night. The story goes that the march was recognized as the Coronation March and this pleased the composer, who said that American audiences knew his music better than the Russians did.

(Incidentally, on the same trip to America, Tchaikovsky also visited the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore — the alma mater of tonight’s featured composer Philip Glass, and my alma mater too.) 

The hall was at first called just Music Hall (founded by Andrew Carnegie) but soon, at the start of the 1894-95 season, it was officially changed to Carnegie Hall. But if you go out front and look up, those words — Music Hall founded by Andrew Carnegie — are still there, etched in the building above the entrance. Andrew Carnegie was one of the richest men in the world at the time, an industrialist who spent the latter part of his life as a philanthropist, funding this hall and of course Carnegie libraries around the country.

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