Leonard Bernstein: A journey into music in a way that many think has never been bettered

Bernstein by Paul de Hueck, courtesy of The Leonard Bernstein Office

The weekend of 5-6 December presents a great opportunity for anyone who wants to delve deeper into the meaning of music, guided by one of the medium’s great communicators and geniuses, Leonard Bernstein. In two days of events at Queen Elizabeth Hall, The Bernstein Project Artistic Director Marin Alsop, film curator Humphrey Burton, Southbank Centre and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment present a series of events bringing to life Bernstein’s famous Harvard Norton Lectures on the poetics of music The Unanswered Question. Taking Chomsky’s Language and Mind as a starting inspiration these six televised lectures were a revolution in the presentation of musical thought and analysis, drawing rave reactions from his Harvard audience and television viewers alike when they first appeared in 1973.

On Saturday evening at 7pm, Alsop presents Mozart’s 40th symphony in the spirit of the Norton Lectures, deconstructing, exploring and then performing one of Mozart’s darkest and most dramatic late symphonies. At 10pm she repeats the performance with an accent on informality, in one the OAE’s inimitable one hour Night Shift performances.

Before these concerts, at 5.45pm, I’ll be talking to Humphrey Burton, who will set the scene for the evening events, introducing the Discovery concerts and the Norton lectures in the first two of which Bernstein focuses on Mozart’s 40th symphony as a way of brilliantly analysing the origins and development of music and language. The talk will include film excerpts from these first two lectures, Musical Phonology and Musical Syntax.

On Sunday morning at 11 a.m. I will return with Burton as he introduces a complete showing of the third lecture, Musical Semantics, in which Bernstein virtuosically dissects Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, concluding the film lecture with a performance of the entire symphony in a performance with Bernstein and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. To end the morning session, Burton, a friend, biographer, and also producer of many of Bernstein’s films, muses on the three remaining lectures in the series, The Delights and Dangers of Ambiguity, The Twentieth Century Crisis, and The Poetry of the Earth.

Together these events offer an unprecedented opportunity to understand the way the music was composed, and what it means. As a composer, conductor, linguist and philosopher Bernstein takes us on a journey into the music in a way that many think has never been bettered.

Marshall Marcus, Southbank Centre Head of Music


Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos is Southbank Centre’s An Artist In Focus this season where he performs in four concerts specially created for this mini-residency. The mini residency starts tonight!

More info on Kavakos’ An Artist In Focus


Tom Service comments on the residency in the Guardian blog:

‘Many have tried, but few have succeeded: Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos attempts the impossible tomorrow night with the London Philharmonic, the start of his four-concert residency as the South Bank Centre’s An Artist In Focus. In programmes in which you can hear Kavakos as a conductor and director with his orchestra, Camerata Salzburg, as chamber musician and concerto soloist, Kavakos is searching for what he calls the “source” of music: the transcendent, ethereal realm that, for him, is the place that the great masterpieces come from.’

Read the full blog

The mini residency kicks off tonight with Kavakos’ performance of Berg Violin Concerto with London Philharmonic Orchestra and Vladimir Jurowski.

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The World Premiere of Pictures Reframed in New York

Watch a video on the world premiere of Pictures Reframed in  New York this November.

Coming to London this December!

Have a look at what New Yorkers had to say about this exciting programme entitled Pictures Reframed which centres around Mussorgsky’s epic piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition combining music, film and still imagery.

Pictures Reframed is performed at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on Friday 4 December. BOOK TICKETS NOW!




Get to know… Marin Alsop

Marin Alsop with Leonard Bernstein (photo: Walter Scott)

In a few weeks time, Marin Alsop joins us for a talk and concerts as part of The Bernstein Project.

Alsop’s connection to Leonard Bernstein stretches back to the tender age of nine when she first saw him conducting. At that moment, she knew she had to become a  conductor herself. Aged 31, Alsop was then taken under the wing of Bernstein, who made an indelible mark on her not only as a musician, but a person.

In Leonard Bernstein, Marin Alsop found much more than someone who could teach her the craft of conducting. She found a humanitarian, a visionary, a man committed to spreading his love of music to future generations. And she found a friend.

On 30 November, Alsop joins leading writer Susie Orbach to discuss leadership in cultural life. On 5 December, Alsop leads the audience through Mozart’s Symphony No.40, in the spirit of Bernstein’s famous Harvard University Norton lectures. For those who may want something lighter, check out The Night Shift event on the same day.

Seeing that she will be with us again very soon, we asked her  to answer a few questions about her personal life for us… enjoy and don’t miss her while she is here!

Get to know… Marin Alsop

What do you fear the most?
Losing my independence as I get older.

Which mobile number do you call the most?
My family’s.

What – or where – is perfection?
On the podium when everyone is completely ‘in the zone’ and creating great, inspired music together.

Who is your favourite hero from fiction (book/comic/film/opera) – and why?
The writer Horatio Alger – I still believe in the American dream.

What’s your favourite ritual?
I love Sunday mornings with pancakes, the paper and, most importantly, my son and partner. We usually go for a hike in the Colorado mountains afterwards.

Which living person do you most admire (and why)?
Barack Obama – he’s all about what CAN be.

What other talent or skill would you like to possess?
I’d love to be a gymnast – back flips and the works!

Tell us about a special memory you have of Southbank Centre (Royal Festival Hall/Queen Elizabeth Hall/Purcell Room/Hayward Gallery)?
Conducting Bolero at Royal Festival Hall’s reopening was very exciting; it felt like being part of history.

What’s your favourite website?
The one I visit most often, to check on my calendar is www.marinalsop.com. Otherwise there are many others I use all the time especially Wikipedia.

If you could programme your ideal Southbank Centre show, which artists (living or dead) would you bring together?
Leonard Bernstein and The Beatles.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Perseverance is the key to success. Work hard and maximize every opportunity!

What is the most played piece of music on your MP3 player or in your CD collection?
Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.

Do you have a New Year’s resolution for 2010?
Always try to get healthier!

Hot off the American Press: Reviews of Pictures Reframed in New York

‘The product of that collaboration, ‘Pictures Reframed,’ an intriguing multimedia piano recital…was presented at Alice Tully Hall on Friday night…the place was packed. I am glad to have attended this multimedia experiment.’ (The New York Times)

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‘…a stunning achievement. Far more than merely another multimedia collaboration for our multitasking, iPod-toting era, it brilliantly illumines Mussorgsky’s achievement in ways that transcend the literalism of words, images, and notes on a page.’ (San Francisco Classical Voice)

Read full review

‘Pictures is a piece with good bones, the keyboard version invites you to listen deep into it and Andsnes delivered a lucid, beautifully articulated account.’ (Time)

Read full review

‘Leif Ove Andsnes is a brilliant pianist with a wild imagination, a healthy disrespect for tradition and a technique that makes the impossible seem easy.’ (The Financial Times)

Read full review

PICTURES REFRAMED is being performed at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on Friday 4 December. Don’t miss it!



Jamie Bernstein – A Personal Touch

‘My brother and I were watching The Flintstones on television. Betty and Wilma were going to the Hollyrock Bowl to hear Leonard Bernstone conduct. That was really when the penny dropped. We thought, wow, he must have really hit the big time.’ (Jamie Bernstein)

The Jamie Berstein Podcast

As part of our ten-month celebration of the famed music icon Leonard Bernstein, we asked writer and broadcaster Edward Seckerson (chief classical music and opera critic for The Independent) to interview Bernstein’s daughter Jamie. The outcome? A fascinating and insightful look into the Bernsteins’ personal lives.

Listen to the free podcast »
Download the free podcast »

The Bernstein Project:

We have a whole range of upcoming exciting events, including a free day of events celebrating the dance styles of Bernstein’s (arguably) most famous work West Side Story, footage of Bernstein conducting at the famous Freedom Concert given in Berlin on Christmas Day 1989 as the Wall fell and Marin Alsop (the Project Artistic Director) who both conducts a concert with our resident orchestra the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and gives a talk with Susie Orbach… something for everyone!

PICTURES REFRAMED LATE Friday 4 Decemeber 9:30

There are two performances of the Pictures Reframed project: 7:30pm and 9:30pm.


The late-night performance of Pictures Reframed is a more informal presentation of the project. Come and enjoy a drink before the concert with a DJ set from 9pm, and feel free to take your drinks in with you at the beginning of the concert.

To open the event, Robin Rhode discusses the project with Southbank Centre’s Head of Contemporary Culture, Gillian Moore, and Southbank Centre’s Chief Curator of the Hayward Gallery, Stephanie Rosenthal.

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