This program parallels Leonard Bernstein’s final summer tour with the New York Philharmonic in 1986, which stopped first at Ravinia on August 5. While rehearsing the program, Bernstein remarked to soloist and NY Phil concertmaster Glenn Dicterow that the Serenade “is the best [expletive] piece I ever wrote.”
Both Candide and the Serenade reveal Leonard Bernstein’s reverence for classic literature: Voltaire’s satire is given a modern twist as the Candide overture skewers the style of grand opera, and Plato’s great speakers are given fresh dialog in praise of love. Bernstein would later indelibly retell Shakespeare in his groundbreaking musical West Side Story. Longtime friend and fellow composer/conductor/pianist Lukas Foss once called Bernstein “the most well-read composer I have ever met.”
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony was once believed to be the composer’s “suicide note” on account of it including a short passage from the Russian Orthodox requiem liturgy, the subtitle “Pathétique,” and the composer’s death just nine days after he led its premiere.
Joshua Bell performed the Serenade with the New York Philharmonic for its own celebration of Leonard Bernstein, also touring it with the orchestra to Europe in 2013.
Leonard Bernstein wrote the Serenade with the intention of having it premiered by violinist Isaac Stern, whose son Michael will be conducting the other Ravinia program Joshua Bell will be performing on this summer.
The third movement of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony is written in a rousing march style with such an invigorating climax that it’s like a trick ending, setting up the last movement to emphasize its tragic passion implied by the subtitle “Pathétique.”
Like Leonard Bernstein, Joshua Bell is devoted to advancing music education for children, having been involved with the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities’ Turnaround Arts program and even appearing on the long-running television series Sesame Street.
A star even in a parallel musical world, Joshua Bell has appeared as himself three times in the Golden Globe– and Emmy-winning TV series Mozart in the Jungle.
Joshua Bell has appeared in many unexpected places in pop culture, including as the subject of two children’s books, a Pulitzer-winning Washington Post story, and a Dennis the Menace comic, as well as on People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People” list.
Harriet Bernbaum, in memory of Keren-Or Bernbaum and Harry H. Bernbaum