There may not be a bouncing ball, but the upcoming presentation of the movie “West Side Story” at the AFI Silver will include lyrics to the songs in subtitles on screen. At which point, audience members will be invited to sing along.
The screening is part of a centennial celebration of the birth of Leonard Bernstein – composer, conductor, pianist, author, music lecturer, and teacher – born on August 25, 1918, said Todd Hitchcock, AFI Silver’s director of programming.
“West Side Story” and two other films to which Bernstein contributed the music are the American Film Institute’s contribution to the celebration. One is “On the Waterfront,” a dark drama about a stevedore who confronts the mobster who rules the docks, starring Marlon Brando; the other is the film version of the Broadway musical “On the Town,” about three sailors who find love while on leave in New York.
AFI is one of many arts organizations in the D.C. area presenting concerts, stage shows, and other events to pay tribute to Bernstein, who died on Oct. 14, 1990. A longtime conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein was considered by many to be one of the most versatile musicians.
Through such programs as “Omnibus” and “Young People’s Concerts,” Bernstein reached out to youthful audiences and others who wanted to be educated in classical music – although he subscribed to the notion that “there are only two kinds of music – good music and bad music.” He also wrote works that fit into or crossed several genres.
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“Bernstein embraced the educational aspect of music,” said Hitchcock. “These programs weren’t just self-promotion.”
Locally, the Kennedy Center organized the commemorative events, in partnership with several area organizations in a celebration globally called “Leonard Bernstein at 100.”
Previously in Montgomery County, The Music Center at Strathmore on Feb. 18 hosted “The Bernstein Story,” narrated by the composer’s daughter Jamie Bernstein, and featured the United States Air Force Band. The band presented the world premiere of brand-new arrangements of several of the composer’s works, such as “West Side Story,” “Chichester Psalms,” “Age of Anxiety” and Bernstein’s clarinet sonata.
These centennial programs have been going on for a year, but others, such as AFI’s, still lie ahead.
So does the tribute to Bernstein at the National Portrait Gallery, which is displaying a photograph of him in his role as conductor by Henri Cartier-Bresson, the late French photojournalist.
The portrait, in gelatin silver print, dates to 1960. Cartier-Bresson photographed Bernstein during a rehearsal with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, where the orchestra was preparing for a sold-out concert with the Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, which took place on Dec. 18 of that year.
The photograph, a promised gift by Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, will hang from August 23 through Sept. 23 in the Portrait Gallery’s “Celebrate Space,” part of the first-floor north gallery.
“Exhibiting this photograph gives the National Portrait Gallery the opportunity to share an image that captures the dynamism that was Leonard Bernstein’s hallmark,” said Ann Shumard, Senior Curator of Photographs. “It complements a more formal, painted portrait by the artist Rene Bouche, currently on view in ‘Bravo,’ the museum’s permanent collection gallery featuring leading figures in the performing arts.”
After September 23, the Cartier-Bresson photograph will remain in the museum’s custody.
“When not in view, it will reside in the museum’s climate-controlled collection storage space,” said Shumard.
First showings or “On the Town” and “On the Waterfront” at AFI are Sept. 1 at 11 a.m. and Aug. 31 at 7:30 p.m., respectively. There is only one showing of “West Side Story,” Sept. 2 at 4 p.m.
AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center is at 8633 Colesville Road, downtown Silver Spring. For more information, visit www.afi.com/silver.
The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery is at 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, D.C. For more information, visit http://npg.si.edu.