Leonard Bernstein was a musical genius whose life is being celebrated this month. On Sunday, May 3, one genius paid homage to another when Washington Performing Arts brought the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, with Wynton Marsalis to the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
As a composer, Bernstein fused diverse musical elements, combining classical European traditions with American styles including jazz, blues, and Latin dance. The night reflected the composer’s diverse styles and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra was more than up to the task with its talented group of musicians.
Wynton Marsalis, the orchestra’s managing and artistic director, greeted the audience and then took a step back, introducing trombonist Vincent R. Gardner as narrator for the evening. Marsalis then folded into the orchestra, with his brother Jason impeccably holding things down on the drums during the night.
The concert kicked off with kickoff with Bernstein’s operetta “Candide,” which was met with rousing applause. Yes, this was was a night that put many of Bernstein’s most popular songs front and center, including music from Bernstein’s most popular musical, “West Side Story” was of course served up.
Bernstein thoroughly embraced his Jewish faith and the orchestra performed “Jeremiah’s Song,” taken from the Book of Lamentations. It was Bernstein’s first large orchestral piece. The night was filled with anecdotal history about the origin of the songs. “Gloria De Excelsis” from Bernstein’s “Mass,” was commissioned by Jackie Kennedy to inaugurate the John F. Kennedy Center in 1971. It was a sweeping piece with flourishes that seemed to catapult the listener back in time to that celebratory moment more than 40 years ago.
The concert ended with the always timely and satisfying, “Somewhere” which was an exceptionally delightful end of a wonderful, jazz-filled evening.