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Monday, September 26, 2011

Interview with Jamie Bernstein

Jamie Bernstein, one of Leonard's three children, has very graciously agreed to answer a few questions for us. Today we are very pleased to share this special interview with this very talented and busy woman.

Jamie Bernstein
Growing up in a household that included not only her musical father, but also her pianist and actress mother Felicia Montealegre, it's no wonder that Jamie is now a narrator, writer and broadcast who works to share and teach the excitement of music with others.

Jamie travels the world as a concert narrator, appearing everywhere from Beijing to Caracas to Vancouver. In addition to her own scripted narrations, Jamie also performs standard concert narrations, such as Walton’s “Facade,” Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait” and her father’s Symphony No. 3, “Kaddish.” She is a frequent speaker on musical topics, including in-depth discussions of her father’s works.

In addition to "The Bernstein Beat,” a family concert about her father modeled after his own groundbreaking Young People’s Concerts, Jamie has written and narrated concerts about Mozart and Aaron Copland, among others.

As a broadcaster, Jamie has produced and hosted shows for radio stations in the United States and in Great Britain. She has hosted several seasons of the New York Philharmonic’s live national radio broadcasts, and has presented various series for New York’s classical station, 96.3 WQXR FM , including annual live broadcasts from Tanglewood.

And on top of all that, Jamie also writes articles and poetry, which have appeared in such publications as Symphony, DoubleTake, Town & Country and Gourmet.

Jamie is a devoted mom to her two children, Francisca and Evan. She is an avid scrabble and tennis player, and makes an annual pilgrimage to the Utah desert to recharge her spiritual battery. 

And now, on to the interview!

You were quite young when West Side Story was first staged. Do you remember anything about the premiere?

Nope! I was barely 5 years old. What I remember better is when the film came out; by then I was about 10. I loved the movie so much, I vowed I'd see it ten times! I thought that was such a wild aspiration -- but by now I've probably seen it at least 50 times. 

Although my brother and sister and I loved the movie (along with just about the whole world), our dad wasn't all that crazy about it. But he'd been too busy to work on it himself, so he didn't grouse in public. He had delegated all the musical work in the film to the arranger Johnny Green.

Out of all of your father’s work, what does West Side Story mean to you?

West Side Story was such an enormous presence in our lives that it was almost like a fourth sibling.We've known it all our lives, everybody loves it, and it's amazing how that music doesn't seem one bit dated.

Reading your website, it seems you most deeply admire your father for his gifts as a teacher – something you have apparently inherited. What made him such an amazing teacher?

I think my father didn't make a big distinction between teaching and learning; for him, they were so connected as to be virtually the same process. Teaching for him was just sharing what he was excited about, and learning had no meaning until he could share it, and then he was teaching. It was a circuit of energy that kept him going -- and that's what conducting was for him too. 

He and the orchestra were together exploring a work: learning, teaching and sharing the process with each other -- and then together sharing the fruits of that process with an audience, whose attention and delight circled back around to the musicians through the conductor. A true electrical circuit! They don't call him a "conductor" for nothing.

What do you think he would have made of modern technologies such as the live HD broadcasts from Metropolitan Opera, YouTube and instant communications like Twitter?

I'm really sorry my dad isn't around to participate in these concert broadcasts. He started doing just that in his lifetime, but the technology wasn't there yet to make it so immediate and widespread.

Learn more about Jamie Bernstein and her projects (including a great story about her adventure in Caracas) at her website.

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