'The Power of Music' explores Leonard Bernstein's life, Jewish identity and social activism

Wooden blocks with music notes. Part of Bernstein exhibit.

Wooden blocks that are part of Samples of Faith, an interactive multimedia display in the exhibition.

Leonard Bernstein is headed back to Brandeis.

The exhibition “Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music” will be on view from October 4 to November 20. Organized by the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, the exhibition includes artifacts and photographs — on loan from the composer’s family and other collections — that explore his life, Jewish identity and social activism. Additional materials from Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections document Bernstein’s time at Brandeis as a member of the music faculty and the Board of Trustees.

The exhibition, which is free and open to the public, features stations for listening to Bernstein’s music, viewing documentary films of Bernstein conducting, and excerpts from “West Side Story.” One of its many innovations is Samples of Faith, an interactive multimedia display that encourages visitors to peel back the many layers of Bernstein’s compositions, including their roots in his early years in Boston.

Audiences may be familiar with Bernstein’s works but not necessarily how his music was informed by the political and social crises of his day. Visitors will find an individual who expressed the restlessness, anxiety, fear and hope of an American Jew living through World War II and the Holocaust, Vietnam, and turbulent social change around the world.

Spingold Theater Center’s Dreitzer Gallery houses the main part of the exhibition, with additional materials in Slosberg Music Center and Shapiro Admissions Center. It is open Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Thursday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.
 
“Leonard Bernstein is remembered as a passionate, larger-than-life personality — a charismatic conductor, devoted educator and skilled musician,” said Ivy Weingram, NMAJH’s associate curator and organizer of the exhibition. “This exhibition delves into his memorable works while also exploring a lesser-known side of Bernstein — the American Jew who inspired social progress, both on and off the stage. As our nation continues to confront issues of race, religion and what it means to be an American, Bernstein’s life and music take on new, personal meanings for every audience.”

Bernstein’s Boston roots and his years teaching at Brandeis are important to understanding his complex life, according to Brandeis University Professor Jonathan D. Sarna, NMAJH’s chief historian.

“He’s perhaps the only great American composer who heard his first serious music in a synagogue, Boston’s Congregation Mishkan Tefila,” Sarna said.

Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music continues Brandeis’ yearlong celebration of Leonard Bernstein at 100. The exhibition has been made possible in part by major grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Key support provided by The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation.

The Brandeis presentation of the exhibition is sponsored by the Office of the President and the Office of the Arts. Major support has been provided by Lisa B. Popowich and Jonathan B. Stein P'12; Robin Brooks ’57, F’12; Eric Green P’05, P’07; and Robert Safron ’66 and Lynda Safron. Cosponsors include the Dean of Arts and Sciences; Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; Brandeis Library; Schusterman Center for Israel Studies; Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry; Mandel Center for the Humanities; Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies; Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program; American Studies Program; Department of Mathematics; Department of Physics; Vice Provost for Research; International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life; and Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education. It was organized at Brandeis by Ingrid Schorr, director of Office of the Arts and by Ellen Smith, associate professor and director of the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program. Exhibition consultants: Kristin Parker and Hepzibah Rapoport ’12.

Categories: Arts

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