Home Stretch

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Jamie Bernstein remembers her composer father, Leonard Bernstein, as an insomniac.

“My dad had this motor he couldn’t shut off,” Bernstein says. “He loved staying up at night and banging on the piano with all his pals.”

Bernstein takes fans on a guided tour of her father’s musical mind in Late Night with Leonard Bernstein, which comes to the Musical Instrument Museum on Tuesday, November 13. It is an affectionate portrait of one of 20th century’s most charismatic public figures.

Bernstein hosts the evening, joined by soprano Amy Burton and pianists John Musto and Michael Boriskin.

“I’m the guide, as it were,” she says. “It’s a bouquet of musical material by my dad and other composers whose songs my father loved to play on the piano to amuse and impress his friends. We have a couple cool clips that we share that are very unusual and rare. There’s a little bit of everything.”

Leonard Bernstein produced a wealth of compositions, including “Symphonic Dances” for 1960’s West Side Story, “Mass: A Theater Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers,” which was commissioned in the early 1970s for the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.; and “Concerto for Orchestra: Jubilee Games” in 1989.

This year is special for the Bernsteins, as the patriarch would have turned 100 this year. She says she has a hard time keeping track of all the worldwide events, but she does her best. The database is soaring past 4,200 centennial-related events, some of which she attends.

“My favorites are the ones in schools because they remind the world of who our dad was and what our legacy consists of,” she says. “Kids today don’t know who Leonard Bernstein was. Back then, everybody knew who Leonard Bernstein was because he was on television with his young people’s concerts.”

Bernstein says her dad’s story will hit the silver screen soon, as Bradley Cooper is working on a biopic. In June, Bernstein released the book Famous Father Girl, named after her second-grade classmate’s nickname for her.

“I enjoyed writing it,” she says. “It reminded me a lot of being pregnant; this giant thing was going on all the time. I can’t remember on a day-to-day basis what it felt like to write the book. I was in a trance for a year and a half.

“When I wrote the last sentence, I thought, ‘Oh my God. That’s the end of the book,’” she says. “But there’s so much work to be done. I’ll continue promoting the book next year, as people continue to remember my father.”

Like Leonard Bernstein’s fans, Jamie Bernstein gets emotional when she hears her dad’s music.

“There’s so much of him in his music. He, himself, was so emotional. One of the most amazing things about this centennial is so many people come up to me and tell me about their emotional connection to my dad.

“The music makes them feel a certain way. My dad’s whole way of being was about the emotional and human connection. He really brings something out in people.”