"Performing Bernstein’s works teaches you much more than technique. You learn that music is for EVERYONE, and that THE reason we should perform music is to connect the people of the earth. To make the world a better place."
Mike conducts Bernstein's "Mambo" at Carnegie Hall, an encore with the New York Youth Symphony
The encore performance of Bernstein’s “Mass,” performed last night to another sold-out crowd at the Ravinia Festival, was an unmitigated success! And better still, our production was captured for national television (details TBA)! As the Chicago Tribune writes, “If the cinematography and sound recording do justice to what unfolded on the pavilion stage, America will see the enduring value of a major, long-underestimated Bernstein magnum opus.” Many, many congratulations to everyone who worked on this production, and I was very proud to be your pianist! This production of “Mass” capped off my small contribution to the worldwide celebration of Leonard Bernstein's 100th birthday (and 98th, 99th, and 101st, etc). During that time, I’ve had the incredible fortune and honor of performing Bernstein’s music as a conductor and pianist with some of the most magnificent arts organizations including Carnegie Hall, New York Youth Symphony, Weill Music Institute, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Ravinia Festival, Mannes School of Music, and my orchestra in Virginia, the Northern Neck Orchestra. I can absolutely attest that there is no musical experience more rewarding, for a young musician, than to immerse themselves in Bernstein’s art.
From a technical perspective, Bernstein provides the ultimate training for musicians. I am not sure that there are many (if any) other composers who demand more rhythmic and technical precision in quite as wide a spectrum of diverse musical styles as Bernstein does. Like Dr. Seuss, who invented his own words once he had run out of English ones, Bernstein invented musical language once he ran out of traditional ones.
But performing Bernstein’s works teaches you much more than technique. You learn that music is for EVERYONE, and that THE reason we should perform music is to connect the people of the earth. To make the world a better place.
With that in mind, there couldn’t possibly be a better piece to conclude my participation in the worldwide celebration than “Mass” (particularly as it was my second time!). I challenge you to find a piece that challenges the performer more vigorously to all of the tasks listed above, or is more rewarding at the same. How special to do it in the presence of his family, and in collaboration with some of the most respected Bernstein interpreters in the world (of course, the same could be said for the other productions too! Looking at you, Yannick Nezet-Seguin! Kevin Newbury! Melissa Rae Mahon and Leslie Stifelman, Bramwell Tovey!). And of course, to have shared so many of these experiences with my closest mentor, the incomparable Marin Alsop, who in my opinion carries forward Leonard Bernstein’s musical citizenry more than anyone else…well, the memories and the lessons will last forever. And, my goal is to pass them forward. As an aside, it’s interesting on a personal level that I met Marin when I was 13, as she conducted a production of “Mass” at the Hollywood Bowl. How the planet revolves! Thanks for reading my dedication to Leonard Bernstein! These photos are from many concerts and productions over the last several years: productions and concerts of West Side Story, Candide, Mass, Slava, Chichester Psalms, and oh…countless others. Happy Birthday Bouquet to You, Bernstein, and many more!
Playing "Mass" in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, July 2018
With Marin Alsop, Ravinia Festival, July 2018
With Yannick, Kevin Newbury, Leslie Stifelman, Melissa Rae Mahon, and the cast of "Candide" with the Philadelphia Orchestra
Combined part for Bernstein's "Mass" which Michael created, and then played in 2018 and 2019 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Michael's desk for Carnegie Hall's "West Side Story" at the Knockdown Center, 2016
With Bramwell Tovey at the St. Louis Symphony, after a thrilling performance of "Chichester Psalms"