Bernstein and the Best of All Possible Worlds

    Celebrating the prolific legacy of Leonard Bernstein, one of America's greatest musicians, with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic and a Colorado College symposium.

    leonard bernstein conducts
    Don Hunstein, courtesy Sony Music.

    On Jan. 27, 1968, Leonard Bernstein took the stage at Carnegie Hall, just has he did countless times over the course of his decades-long tenure with the New York Philharmonic. This particular performance was one of his celebrated Young People’s Concerts broadcast to television viewers around the country from 1958 to 1972, which educated an entire generation about the world of classical music.

    The program that evening featured an orchestral piece by modern German composer Paul Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber. As the title implies, Hindemith transforms a set of melodies by a 19th century German composer, one who had influenced Hindemith since his own youth. Bernstein invited his audience to consider Hindemith’s own transformation:

    “Think of him as a young boy, playing these four-hand [piano] pieces of Weber with his brother or a school friend, delighting in them in a way we can delight in music only when we play it ourselves, at home, with family or friends. Then think of him grown-up, world-famous, with the echoes of those youthful delights still ringing in his ears-and then you will understand why he wrote these metamorphoses, recalling his youth, and why so much deep delight shines out of this heartwarming music.”

    colorado springs philharmonic celebrates bernstein
    Tom Kimmell, courtesy of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic.

    Fast forward 50 years to the day-Jan. 27, 2018-to the opening concert of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic’s The Best of All Possible Worlds: Leonard Bernstein at 100. This centenary celebration of all things Bernstein invites audiences similarly to reflect on the sonic delights of this legendary American musician and in his advocacy for the power of creativity to overcome intolerance.

    As a prolific composer, conductor and performer, Leonard Bernstein left his musical mark across the American spectrum of entertainment, from the concert hall and musical theater, to television and film, and even education and criticism. As a humanitarian, he was an outspoken advocate for world peace and civil rights. Bernstein remains one of America’s most-celebrated musicians, and his legacy endures. Few musicians can say they have not been influenced in some way by Bernstein. It is unlikely we will witness a figure quite like him again.

    Any attempt to cover the entirety of a career as varied as that of Bernstein is ambitious to say the least. The January through March Colorado Springs Philharmonic’s Bernstein Festival-one of several around the world honoring Bernstein in 2018-emerged from the collaboration of Philharmonic president and CEO Nathan Newbrough and music director and conductor Josep Caballé-Domenech. What equips the Colorado Springs Philharmonic to undertake such an endeavor?

    “It is such a versatile ensemble, just as Bernstein was a versatile musician,” says George Preston, general manager of local classical radio station KCME. “Our Philharmonic regularly plays traditional classical concerts, pops concerts that feature jazz, Broadway standards and film scores, and the Vanguard Concerts that explore what’s behind great pieces of music. These are all fields within music that Bernstein worked in so passionately.”

    Just as Bernstein put Hindemith in relation to Weber, the Philharmonic’s programming places Bernstein alongside his own influences. Music from Aaron Copland’s ballet Rodeo and a symphony by Jean Sibelius bookend a performance of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. The opening concert featured Gustov Mahler’s Songs of Wayfarer alongside Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1: Jeremiah-a work completed in 1942, right around the time that Hindemith composed Symphonic Metamorphosis.

    If none of these works sound all that familiar, certainly the music of Bernstein’s Broadway musical West Side Story will strike a chord. Further demonstrating the versatility of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, the orchestra will perform the full score live on stage while the Oscar-winning film, with its original vocals and dialogue, appears on a giant screen above the ensemble. However, audiences might spend more time watching the conductor than the movie. “Caballé-Domenech’s fiery musicality has made concert-going a real treat,” says Susan Grace, director of the Colorado College Summer Music Festival.

    The notably kinetic Bernstein would undoubtedly approve.

    Find the Bernstein Festival schedule at

    Bernstein at 100:
    Colorado College Music Symposium

    Come Feb. 22-24, you can learn about and celebrate more Leonard Bernstein with American music scholars and a live interview with the iconic composer’s eldest daughter, Jamie Bernstein.

    “In the spirit of Bernstein’s educational mission, our guests will share academically oriented insights in an accessible and approachable manner,” says Ryan Bañagale, symposium organizer and CC musicologist. And, yes, there will be Bernstein music performed by Colorado College faculty, students and staff.