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Stacey Fraser, soprano and Eva Barnes, narrator

Bernstein Centennial Celebrated with Chorus, Orchestra in “Kaddish” Symphony

La Jolla CA— La Jolla Symphony & Chorus (LJS&C) celebrates Leonard Bernstein’s Centennial in a concert filled with juxtapositions of light and dark on March 16-17. Anchoring the program is Bernstein’s rarely performed Symphony No. 3, subtitled “Kaddish.” Scored for large forces – chorus, large orchestra, children’s choir, soprano soloist and narrator — the symphony interweaves an ancient Jewish prayer for the dead with text by Bernstein. The program begins with Laurie San Martin’s nights bright days followed by Beethoven’s light-filled Eighth Symphony.

Laurie San Martin’s music has been described as exuberant, colorful, and high octane. A professor of music at University of California, Davis, San Martin composed nights bright days in 1998 for the Composers Conference at Wellesley College, where it was premiered under the baton of the late Efrain Guigui. The single-movement piece, scored for chamber orchestra, begins with a slow, lyrical section that returns at the end after a fiery middle that features several wind solos. The title makes a connection to a phrase from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 43. According to the composer, the title also describes “the vivid nights of writing and dreaming I experienced while composing this piece.”

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 surprises with its relaxed, playful charm, especially falling between his powerful Seventh and grand Ninth symphonies. The 26-minute piece — scored for small orchestra in an apparent nod to the manner of Haydn and Mozart — is marked by two things: its energy (there is no slow movement) and its humor. The symphony is full of high spirits, unusual instrumental sounds and sly jokes. The very ending brings the best joke of all with a coda that almost refuses to quit. It eventually does, and with massive chords for full orchestra Beethoven wrenches this good-natured and energetic music to a resounding close.

Leonard Bernstein began writing his Third Symphony in 1961 and completed it in 1963. Like his first two symphonies, it is a philosophical exploration that poses troubling questions. Written in three sections, the “Kaddish” Symphony dramatically sets two quite different texts against each other. The first of these is the ancient Kaddish prayer recited for the dead. The prayer, which never mentions the word “death,” is instead a prayer of praise for God, of acceptance, and finally peace. It is sung — in quite different ways — by chorus, children’s choir and soprano soloistThe second text, written by the composer and recited by a narrator, flies in the face of this ancient Jewish prayer. It defiantly rejects the prayer’s consoling acceptance and, instead, challenges God’s apparent disinterest to human suffering. Bernstein’s narrator is not a humble supplicant but an angry and disillusioned soul. She has lost faith in the covenant He forged with humankind. Acknowledging failures on both sides, the narrator eventually sets out to help God reconnect with humankind and together forge a vital new relationship. Bernstein led the premiere of his symphony in Tel Aviv with the Israel Philharmonic on December 10, 1963. It was just three weeks after President Kennedy was assassinated, and Bernstein dedicated the symphony “To the Beloved Memory of John F. Kennedy.” Bernstein was not completely happy with the text he’d written for the narrator, and fourteen years later, in 1977, he revised it to the version performed at these concerts by Eva Barnes, UC San Diego Theater Department Professor. The performances also feature soprano Stacey Fraser, the North Coast Singers “Caprice” youth choir, and La Jolla Symphony Chorus.

The performances take place in Mandeville Auditorium at UC San Diego on Saturday, March 16 and Sunday, March 17, 2019. Concert times are 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and 2:00 p.m. on Sunday. A pre-concert lecture by Steven Schick is given one hour before concert start. Tickets are $18-$39. Parking is free on weekends. To purchase tickets or for more information, call 858-534-4637 or visit lajollasymphony.com.

The La Jolla Symphony & Chorus, San Diego’s oldest and largest community orchestra and chorus, is a non-profit musical performing group dedicated to inspiring San Diego with the joy of music. Its 90-person orchestra and 100-person chorus perform groundbreaking orchestral and choral music alongside traditional favorites from the classical repertoire. During the 64th season, Music Director Steven Schick leads the ensemble in music by Bernstein, Beethoven, Handel, Stravinsky, Barber and more. Founded in 1954, LJS&C has been an affiliate of UC San Diego since 1967.