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Bernstein’s genius is focus of NM Philharmonic concert

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Leonard Bernstein was more than a great composer, teacher and pianist.

“For me, Bernstein is the greatest American musician of all time,” New Mexico Philharmonic music director Roberto Minczuk said in a telephone interview from São Paulo, Brazil.

“He could be performing a piano concerto in Vienna and the next week he has a jazz session with Duke Ellington in New York. He has this incredible background of a Renaissance man.”

Violinist Jennifer Frautschi

The orchestra will continue its 100th anniversary tribute to the composer of “West Side Story” with “Liberty, Love & the Firebird” at Popejoy Hall on Saturday, Nov. 8.

The musicians will play Bernstein’s “Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium)” with two-time Grammy Award nominee Jennifer Frautschi.

Minczuk performed with the great composer when he was studying at Juilliard as a teenager.

“Everybody knows his scores for ‘West Side Story,’ ‘On the Town’ and ‘Candide, ” he said. “What people don’t know are the technical intricacies of the scores. He brought to music elements from Stravinksy’s music, Maurice Ravel’s music, Richard Wagner’s music, to an extent no one had done before.”

Minczuk not only studied with Bernstein at Juilliard, but he attended his New York Philharmonic rehearsals.

Philharmonic conductor Roberto Minczuk

“I learned so much from this guy’s incredible mind,” he said. “He was very encouraging of all young artists.”

Bernstein’s “Serenade” is very demanding, Minczuk said.

“At the same time, it has the jazz influence, but he does it in such a natural way that it works beautifully.”

The orchestra also will play Debussy’s symphonic poem “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.” Some music scholars consider the work the beginning of modern music and the quintessential example of musical impressionism. Written in 1894, the great dancer Vaslav Nijinsky choreographed the piece for the Ballets Russes. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the composer’s death.

“It is perhaps Debussy’s most famous work,” Minczuk said. “He was to music what Monet was to visual art.”

The concert will close with Stravinsky’s “Suite” from “The Firebird Suite,” famously used in Walt Disney’s 1940 animated film “Fantasia.” The composer penned it for the 1910 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company. It would become his breakthrough piece, Minczuk said.

“It’s music that is beautiful, it’s enchanting, it’s sublime, with moments of incredible power.”