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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Bernstein at the Skirball

I went to the “Leonard Bernstein at 100” exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles yesterday afternoon, an entertaining way to beat the excessive heat. The exhibit, which runs through Sept. 2, is organized by the GRAMMY Museum and curated by its founding executive director Robert Santelli, a music historian. I doubt that any exhibit could capture the plentitude and variety of Bernstein’s life, but this one — with genuine artifacts, as well as replicas and facsimiles — does a good job at showing just how central Bernstein once was in American life. Here are a few of the items that were on display. (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

Entrance to the exhibit.

A photo of a young Bernstein with conductor Serge Koussevitzky, 1940s.

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Neglected symphony: Walter Piston: Symphony No. 2

Walter Piston’s Symphony No. 2 was given its premiere by the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hans Kindler in March of 1944. Leonard Bernstein chose the remarkable Adagio of this work to perform with the New York Philharmonic as a memorial to the composer after he died in 1976.

To hear more music in this series, click on the “neglected symphonies” tag below this post.

Kleiber 88

The brilliant conductor Carlos Kleiber would have been 88 years old today. One never needs an excuse to watch or listen to this great musician, but here’s one anyway. He leads the Bavarian State Orchestra in the “Thunder and Lightning” Polka by Johann Strauss, Jr.

Strauss conducts Strauss

Richard Strauss conducts his own “Till Eulenspiegel.” This is a clip from the documentary “The Art of Conducting: Great Conductors of the Past.” The first voice you hear speaking is Yehudi Menuhin’s.

Carl St.Clair conducts Strauss’s “Ein Heldenleben” this week, doubtless with more enthusiasm.

 

Pacific Symphony’s Roger Kalia wins Solti award

Roger Kalia

Pacific Symphony assistant conductor Roger Kalia has been named as one of the winners of the 2018 Solti Foundation Career Assistance Awards, the Solti Foundation U.S. announced Monday. This is Kalia’s third such award, having also garnered Solti career assists in 2013 and 2017. Seven other recipients from around the country were also named on Monday. The amount of the award was not made public.

“Supporting and encouraging young conductors at the beginning of their careers is the mission of The Solit Foundation U.S.,” said Penny Van Horn, board chair of the foundation.   Now in its 14th year assisting young U.S. conductors, the Foundation has awarded more than $500,000 in grants.

“The Career Assistance Awards from The Solti Foundation U.S. have been extremely valuable in helping me build my career as a conductor,” Kalia said in an email. “Due to the support from The Solti Foundation U.S., I have been able to observe rehearsals and concerts of different orchestras and conductors around the country, build and develop my score library, create high quality videos of my conducting, and network with a variety of people in the classical music field.”

The Foundation is currently the only American foundation granting these kinds of awards. Citizens or permanent residents to the United States who are career-ready artists in the field of conducting are eligible to apply. The Solti Foundation was established in 2000 in memory of the great conductor Sir Georg Solti.

Kalia began his tenure as assistant conductor of Pacific Symphony and music director of Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra in 2015 and recently signed a two-year contract extension. He is also co-founder and music director of the Lake George Music Festival in New York. Previously, he was music director of the Young Musicians Foundation (YMF) Debut Orchestra in Los Angeles and assistant conductor of the Charlotte Symphony.

“I hope to use this year’s award in order to further observe rehearsals and concerts by orchestras not only in the United States but Europe as well,” Kalia said.

“I also plan on using a portion of the award to take German and Italian language courses, which are very important languages for a conductor to know, especially since I would love to conduct more opera in the future. I am most grateful to the Solti Foundation U.S. for their continued support and belief in me.

“I would also like to thank all of those who have helped make this award possible, especially my dear colleagues of Pacific Symphony and Maestro Carl St.Clair.”

Joining Kalia in the winners’ circle this year are conductors Daniel Black, Stilian Kirov, Farkhad Khudyev, Stephen Mulligan, Sameer Patel, Stefano Sarzani and Lidiya Yankovskaya. Visit www.soltifoundation.us for their bios.