Preview: 'Is it time to reassess the legacy of one of the great musical figures of the 20th century?'

 Leonard Bernstein at the piano. Brett Mitchell will lead two concerts celebrating Bernstein's centennial with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra this month in Wellington and Auckland. (Photo by Getty Images)

Leonard Bernstein at the piano. Brett Mitchell will lead two concerts celebrating Bernstein's centennial with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra this month in Wellington and Auckland. (Photo by Getty Images)

The New Zealand Herald has published a preview of Brett Mitchell's upcoming 'Bernstein At 100' concerts with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, presented at the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington on Friday, May 11, and Auckland Town Hall on Friday, May 18.

Leonard Bernstein broke the rules, dared us to follow him, and was so profoundly musical that the results sounded right, even when they were wrong.

Conductor Brett Mitchell, who leads the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in two concerts to celebrate what would have been Bernstein's 100th birthday, has an example from "Lenny the composer".

Mitchell points to one of Bernstein's most famous compositions, the song Maria from West Side Story, which opens with a tritone. Also referred to as "a devil in music", a tritone is a dissonant interval between two notes and was used regularly in avant garde music of the early 20th century.

"What pop song opens with a tritone?" asks Mitchell. "Bernstein knew how to push the boundaries in terms of complexity and yet find his way into the wider culture. We all take Maria for granted now."

Ironically, Bernstein the composer came to see West Side Story, his masterpiece packed with songs still recognised and loved today, as a millstone, the work that defined him until his death in 1990.

"I think there's a perception that West Side Story is 'only' a Broadway show," says Mitchell, "as though there's some qualitative difference in whether it's performed on West 42nd Street in Times Square [ie, Broadway] or West 57th Street where Carnegie Hall is."

The NZSO concert, which also features sometime Postmodern Jukebox vocalist Morgan James, steers closer to Broadway than Carnegie Hall. It includes music from West Side StoryOn the Town and the jazzy operetta Candide, recently in Auckland as part of the arts festival.

To read the complete preview, please click here.