The final San Juan Symphony concert of the year will open with Leonard Bernstein’s jaunty “Overture to Candide.” It’s a perfect way to mark the 100th anniversary of the great musician’s birth, his career and his musical legacy.
The centennial celebration takes place in twin concerts: at 7:30 p.m. , April 7, in the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College, and at 3 p.m. , April 8, in Farmington’s Henderson Performance Hall.
Bernstein’s overture, and the opera to which it belongs, satirizes the foolishness of boundless optimism. Based on Voltaire’s brilliant 1759 novel about a young student whose naïve view of the world is transformed by experience, Bernstein’s Candide joyously updated Voltaire’s work in the middle of the 20th century. In the midst of the McCarthy era, blacklisted playwright Lillian Hellman convinced Bernstein to use Voltaire’s satire to mock the American nightmare created by Joseph McCarthy.
Relevant to this day, Candide indicts false optimism with zest and invention. It was Bernstein, after all, who described the modern era as the Age of Anxiety.
“My idea,” Music Director Thomas Heuser said in an interview this week about the Bernstein centennial, “was to present works of a celebratory nature, works with the same kind of unbridled enthusiasm that Bernstein himself embodied as a musician.”
Heuser will lead the orchestra through the Overture to Candide and follow with Bernstein’s Symphonic Suite from the 1955 film “On the Waterfront.”
“It has a dark intensity used by Bernstein to reach into psychological depths of the characters.”
After intermission, the orchestra will perform “one work by Aaron Copland,” Heuser said, “the iconic Hoe-Down from the ballet ‘Rodeo.’”
Heuser added Copland’s masterwork, he said, “because it compliments and bolsters our sense of Bernstein’s definitively American stylistic influences.”
The concert will close with what Heuser calls “a true masterpiece, the Symphonic Dances from ‘West Side Story.’ This suite showcases orchestral virtuosity and a seemingly endless stream of memorable melodies.”
With the twin Durango and Farmington concerts, our San Juan Symphony will join cities all over the world marking the Bernstein anniversary year. Festivities began last January in a dozen German cities. On New Year’s Day, a piano recital in Tehran focused on works by Bernstein. By Aug. 25, his exact birthdate in Lawrence, MA, concerts on almost every continent will have been convened.
The Boston Symphony’s summer Tanglewood Festival brims with Bernstein offerings. It’s where he got his conducting start. In 2018, Tanglewood will stage six music theater works and blowout a big, birthday bash with fireworks.
By Aug. 25, several full productions of Candide will have been mounted around the world. The Santa Fe Opera hosts a gala opening of Candide on June 29.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theater Critics Association.