– Leonard Bernstein, September 1954
So wrote Leonard Bernstein to his wife Felicia in 1955, crowing about the successful introduction of his brand-new five-movement work for violin and orchestra. Only the inspiration for this “funny modern music” reached all the way back to Greek antiquity, and the dialogues of Plato. Its title? The oddly-named Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium) for Violin, Strings, Harp, and Percussion.
Today, on the occasion of Leonard Bernstein’s Aug. 25 birthday, we’re going to share with you a complete performance of Bernstein’s “funny modern music” that was introduced to the world by the legendary violinist and arts advocate Isaac Stern, whose centennial we are observing in 2020. As the commemorative website isaacsternlegacy.org notes: “As an instrumentalist, musician, teacher, cultural ambassador, social advocate, and civic leader, [Isaac Stern] left an indelible mark on the musical and cultural landscape around the world, and tirelessly adhered to his belief in young people, and in music as an agent of change and a force for good.”
Among the many notable highlights or Stern’s remarkable career was his giving the premiere of the Serenade by his good friend Leonard Bernstein. Further on in the letter, before the 1954 premiere in Venice, Bernstein wrote to his wife Felica, “Isaac plays the Serenade like an angel. If it all goes well tomorrow, it should be a knockout.”
Our Francis Auditorium audience was treated to another knockout performance during the Bernstein Centennial year in 2018, with our great faculty violinist Ilya Kaler was the soloist, and no less a figure than Isaac’s son David Stern leading the first ever “Heifetz Chamber Orchestra” conducting. See for yourself – and click here to following along the fascinating plots and subplots in our annotated video guide to this twentieth-century masterpiece! . .