Sometimes going to the theatre is far, far more than “a nice night’s entertainment” – it’s a visceral experience – and such was Bernstein on Stage, a truly lovely event.
On stage is the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, 76 of them (but only 2 trombones), 19 of the Adelaide Chamber Singers, four soloists and conductor, John Mauceri. By my count that makes 100 people. By accident or design it’s appropriate, for this is the 100th anniversary year of Leonard Bernstein’s birth and who better to be at the helm of this wonderful celebratory concert than John Mauceri who worked for and with him from 1972 until 1990. He settled a point for me straight away when he spoke of the great composer, teacher, conductor and political activist as Bernstein, pronounced Bernstyne, not Bernsteen, as one often hears. As far as I’m concerned, I’m going with the man who knew him so well and obviously loved him and his work.
Reviewing involves giving one’s point of view about more than just what happens on stage. It’s observing the audience too and talking with as many as possible afterwards. The ‘tone’ of the audience was set right at the beginning when the concert should have started with a recording of Billy Holliday singing but all we heard was a muffled, garbled voice and a very nasty crackle. The imperturbable, disciplined performers kept their thoughts to themselves, John Mauceri just quietly waited and there was a gentle ripple from the auditorium. Try again. Oops! Crackle again.
The oh-so competent and experienced conductor took over, faced the audience and said gently, “Something’s gone wrong before we even started!” The good natured audience laughed and clapped and our grey haired, dapper, slim and nice-looking American visitor must have felt the warmth of an Adelaide audience saying ‘welcome’ as he introduced himself, picked up the baton and, from the opening notes of Big Stuff from “Fancy Free” and on to the overture to “On the Town” we were away on a magical journey. Bernstein’s music has an unmistakeable sound. It sparkles and energises, it is tuneful and behind the melody there is so much “music” going on that it’s a complete package in one.
John Mauceri is not a showy conductor, his baton used economically and to excellent effect and his little introductory talks between selections of music from “On the Town,” through to the little-known “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” (with its truly beautiful “Prelude”) built up a story of “Lenny’s” life. He introduced the four soloists who, individually were a delight and, as an ensemble at times, very harmonious indeed. Stand-outs for Lorina Gore, soprano, were “Glitter and be gay” from Candide; for mezzo-soprano Kim Criswell “I can cook too” from “On the Town”; tenor Luke Kennedy’s “Maria” from “West Side Story” and bass-baritone Rodney Earl Clarke’s “Simple Song” from “Mass”but from all the soloists we had the benefit of engaging personalities, very good voices well adapted to the style of the song and with admirable diction. The choir at the back was a beautifully sweet-sounding accompaniment and the orchestra... ah, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra is an icon of which we are rightfully proud. We are fortunate to have in our midst a man who worked with Bernstein for 18 years, first as his assistant, then his editor, conductor of his music and obviously, dear friend. He says, “There is rarely a piece of music I did not learn first hand from him and my edits are everywhere to be found in the printed scores, along with hundreds of stories and anecdotes attached to each piece.” So how lucky are we to have this gentle, quietly-spoken, humorous raconteur and distinguished musician here.
Bernstein’s most loved music for me comes from “West Side Story” and John mentioned that Stephen Spielberg expects to present a new version of it soon. Oh, and one other little mention, apropos some of the music, he said that Thomas Jefferson was America’s most arrogant President ever. Then some hesitation, a self-deprecating smile and “Just listen to me”. There was a belly laugh at that. We knew what had sprung to his mind. Alas, in total, it is only on for two performances.
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra presents
Bernstein on Stage
by Leonard Bernstein
Conductor John Mauceri
Venue: Adelaide Festival Theatre | King William Road, Adelaide SA
Dates: 16 – 17 March 2018
Tickets: $47 – $129
Bookings: 131246 | adelaidefestival.com.au