Monday, July 23, 2018

Leonard Bernstein's Jewish Heritage

We’re celebrating Leonard Bernstein’s centennial year this summer on Clef Notes. Bernstein is remembered for his work as a composer, conductor, pianist, educator, and so much more. Today, let’s focus our attention on Bernstein as a composer – specifically how his heritage impacted many of his works. This post was written by WGUC intern, Connor Annable. 

Leonard Bernstein was born in 1918 to Jewish immigrants from Ukraine. This heritage would later impact his compositions. We first see an example this in his Symphony #1, written not long after Bernstein graduated from Harvard. He called it “Jeremiah” because it drew from a Hebrew setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah in the Bible, which is sung in the symphony’s final movement by a solo mezzo-soprano. What do you think of this work? Bernstein began work on this piece in the late 1930s, during a time when tensions were rising in Europe under Hitler. Do you think these tensions are reflected in this piece?

It was not until 1965 that Bernstein allowed his Jewish heritage to fully come through in his music. In that year, he composed the Chichester Psalms on a commission from Walter Hussey for performance at that year’s Southern Cathedrals Festival in Chichester, England. The work is a setting of selected texts from the Psalms in Hebrew. Bernstein’s musical structures are firmly rooted in tonality while also being rhythmically adventurous.  Interestingly enough, Bernstein’s melodic roots in Chichester Psalms appear to be centered in American popular music, since most of its themes are based on recycled material from West Side Story.

At roughly the same time, Bernstein had completed his Symphony No. 3 “Kaddish,” composed to honor the memory of John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated in 1963. This work sets the traditional Kaddish prayer for the dead, juxtaposed against an English text written by Bernstein himself and read by a solo speaker. Bernstein manages to retain some of his distinctly American flare by writing mainly tonal harmonies with frequent use of mixed meters.

One of Bernstein’s lesser-known works is a “nocturne” for flute and orchestra titled Halil. This work is a prominent example from the later part of Bernstein’s career showing his Jewish heritage. Bernstein dedicated Halil to the memory of an Israeli flute student named Yadin Tannenbaum who was killed fighting in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

Because 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth, it is important to understand how much of an impact his music has had on audiences today, while never underestimating the importance of religious themes or overtones.


Symphony No. 1:
Israel Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, conductor; Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano Deutsche Grammophon 00028945775722

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop, conductor; Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano 
Naxos  8.559790

Chichester Psalms:
Israel Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, conductor; Wiener Jeunesse Chor; Soloist from Wiener Sängerknaben 
Deutsche Grammophon  00028945775722

Symphony No. 3:
New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, conductor; Jennie Tourel, soprano; Felicia Montealegre, narrator; Camerata Singers; Columbus Boychoir 
Sony Classical  074646059524

Israel Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, conductor; Montserrat Caballé, soprano; Michael Wager, narrator; Wiener Jeunesse Chor; Wiener Sängerknaben
Deutsche Grammophon 00028944795424 or 00028946982921

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop, conductor; Kelly Nassief, soprano; Claire Bloom, narrator; Washington Chorus; Maryland State Boychoir 
Naxos  8.559742
Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra/John Neschling, conductor; Sharon Bezaly, flute
BIS  BIS-CD-1650

Israel Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, conductor; Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute
Deutsche Grammophon 00028946982921

Monday, July 16, 2018

What's coming up on Music Cincinnati?

Coming up this Sunday, July 22 at 8pm, 90.9 WGUC presents its Music Cincinnati series, this month spotlighting Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble. Just what exactly is the VAE and what can listeners expect to hear on this special from 90.9?

Since they were founded in 1979, the Vocal Arts Ensemble has sought to present passionate performances for diverse audiences. The chamber choir is currently led by Grammy Award-winning conductor Craig Hella Johnson, who is recognized as one of the nation’s leading choral conductors. Through a variety of innovative performances, the VAE seeks to increase the public’s appreciation of choral music. They often collaborate with other local ensembles in repertoire ranging from the classics to world premieres.

What can you expect to hear this Sunday? The Music Cincinnati broadcast will feature the VAE performing alongside the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and the Cincinnati Children’s Choir. The concert was recorded November 12, 2017 inside Memorial Hall in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine community. This concert celebrated the VAE making the newly-restored Memorial Hall their new home. Three works appear on the program – two classics and one world premiere written specifically for this concert. Craig Hella Johnson commissioned Dominick Di’Orio’s A World Aglow for the occasion. The piece takes its text from Amy Lowell’s The Congressional Library and revolves around themes of inclusivity and equality. Haven’t heard of Dominick Di’Orio? He is an award-winning young composer and conductor whose music is widely performed and recorded. At the age of 31, he became the youngest-ever tenured conducting professor at Indiana University.

What else is on the program? For those who love the classics, you’ll be happy to know that both J.S. Bach and Mozart appear on the program. Bach’s Ascension Oratorio rounds out the first half with Mozart’s Requiem following a brief intermission.

Like what you hear? This program is available on air, online at, and through our free mobile app July 22nd at 8pm! If you aren’t available when it airs, you can also access WGUC’s Music Cincinnati series archived at

Monday, July 9, 2018

A New Album from Simone Dinnerstein

Orange Mountain Music recently released a new album from pianist Simone Dinnerstein. The disc includes the familiar Keyboard Concerto #7 in G minor, BWV 1058 by Johann Sebastian Bach along with a new work written specifically for Dinnerstein by one of today’s top composer’s, Philip Glass. Dinnerstein performs both the Bach concerto and the Third Piano Concerto from Glass in collaboration with the Boston-based chamber orchestra A Far Cry. WGUC had the opportunity to chat with Simone Dinnerstein about her latest album. Here’s what she had to say about first meeting Philip Glass, which eventually led to him writing a concerto for her:


She’s collaborated with A Far Cry Before:


Dinnerstein was overwhelmed upon receiving the score to Glass’s Third Piano Concerto:


The Piano Concerto #3 is iconic Philip Glass and certainly one that minimalism fans will want to check out. This new album provides a solid performance from Simone Dinnerstein and A Far Cry, connecting two prolific composers from opposite ends of history.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Music for the 4th!

Happy Independence Day from 90.9 WGUC! In honor of the holiday, enjoy this playlist created by WGUC intern Connor Annable.