Bernstein at 100

April 9, 2018

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Friday, April 13, Ferguson Center for the Arts
Saturday, April 14, Chrysler Hall
Saturday, May 12, Sandler Center: Bernstein on Broadway
Leonard Bernstein, Israel, and the Power of Music

On September 17, 1948, at 30 years old, Leonard Bernstein boarded a plane bound for Israel. A young conductor and composer just beginning to make his mark, Bernstein was a new star in the music firmament; and Israel was a new country, having been proclaimed the State of Israel by David Ben-Gurion that previous May.

The trip was the beginning of a passionate, lifelong love affair. Bernstein traveled to Israel to take on the role of music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. He was slated to conduct 40 concerts in 60 days across the young nation. But it was an unplanned concert that endeared the bold young conductor to the Jewish homeland.

Surrounded by and immersed in conflict, Israel was beset by battles; it was not unusual for the Orchestra’s audiences to hear artillery fire nearby. In November 1948, the UN had ordered Israel to withdraw its troops from the Negev desert town of Beersheba; but when the troops held their ground, Bernstein and the Orchestra decided to play for the defiant soldiers. Traveling by armored bus, they set up in an archeological dig, its three walls creating a makeshift amphitheater, and began to play. In that unlikely space, a rapt audience gathered, estimated up to 5,000 people—soldiers from the Israeli army, and settlers who had traveled from around the world to make their home in Israel. The crowd was so massive that Egyptian planes flying overhead mistook the gathering for an Israeli troop buildup and withdrew its own soldiers who were then advancing on Jerusalem, ordering them to the Negev.

From that fateful trip forward, Bernstein continued his close relationship with the Israeli Philharmonic, returning again and again, until his death in 1990.

This spring, music lovers can celebrate the courage and bold spirit of this great artist when the Virginia Arts Festival celebrates Bernstein at 100, with concerts in Newport News, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach, featuring the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and soloists in some of Bernstein’s most beloved music.

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