Pianist Michael Boriskin on Taking Leonard Bernstein's Music to the Capitol

By Gary Duff | May 19, 2018 | Culture

Pianist Michael Boriskin may hail from New York, where he is the Artistic and Executive Director of the Aaron Copland House, but music has long provided him with the opportunity to travel the world as an accomplished performing artist. As part of the "Late Night with Leonard Berstein" show, Boriskin joins forces with Jamie Bernstein, the daughter of legendary composer Leonard Bernstein, soprano Amy Burton, and fellow pianist John Musto, to tell an intimate story of one of America's greatest musical talents this weekend at The Phillips Collection.

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You're performing some of Leonard Bernstein's legendary music at the Phillips Collection tomorrow. Tell me how the idea to take the famous composer's music on the road came to be.
MICHAEL BORISKIN: When the New York City Opera produced Bernstein's opera "A Quiet Place" back in 2011, the company's Director George Steel, a Bernstein protégé, conceived several ancillary programs, and "Late Night..." was one of the them. It was intended as an affectionate, intimate portrait of Bernstein, who, as we know, was a singularly public figure. George and Bernstein's older daughter Jamie co-wrote the script and devised a musical program built around some of Bernstein's own piano and vocal music, as well as some of his favorite works by a wide variety of other composers, like his mentor Aaron Copland, as well as Franz Schubert, Edvard Grieg, Ernesto Lecuona, Noel Coward, and Zez Confrey. "Late Night..." was a huge success at its Lincoln Center premiere in 2011, and we've been performing it around the country ever since, with Copland House stepping into the role of producer. With the worldwide celebrations of Bernstein's Centennial this year, there's been increased interest in the show—particularly since it offers a quite different, personal take on one of America's truly iconic musical figures. It's truly a special event, and we've all had a blast doing it. it never gets old!

Jamie, Bernstein's daughter, is also a part of the production, as are soprano Amy Burton and pianist John Musto, who you play alongside with. How are they as collaborators?
MB:
They're the very best: really great artists, outstanding professionals, and colleagues, and marvelous people to spend time with! Jamie is the incomparable host and narrator of the show—you just couldn't do better than have Bernstein's "story" be told by one of his children! (We've also done a few performances of the show with his other daughter, Nina, who is equally delightful, and who brings a different tone to the performance—as you might expect of siblings brimming with personality!)

There's such a wide range of Bernstein music, given his pieces for West Side Story, Candide, Peter Pan and more, so how did that affect the show's music?
MB: The idea for the show is to explore what we call the "after-hours maestro," Bernstein as insomniac. For him, night was a time of non-stop creativity, introspection, friendship, and fun. All of the various musical selections were chosen to reflect that.

Late_Night_with_Leonard_BernsteinA performance of "Late Night with Leonard Bernstein" at the Gilmore Keyboard Festival featuring (from left to right) Michael Boriskin, Jamie Bernstein, Amy Burton, and John Musto.

I feel, now more than ever, that there is a craving for high-quality content, music included. Do you see that and also the importance of exposing people to music whether it's Leonard Bernstein's or Bach's classics?
MB:
I certainly hope you're right... in which case, "Late Night..." absolutely fills the bill for both quality and entertainment. It also opens the window onto a whole era in mid-century America's cultural life, through the life and work of one of the most imaginative and charismatic musical figures ever. At the time in which we're now living, when the worth of almost everything seems to be determined by price-tags, hashtags, and keyclicks, we hope this show helps to affirm other values beyond the merely commercial (though works like West Side Story certainly seem to have conquered every measure of success!).

Aside from being a very talented pianist, you've also served as the Artistic and Executive Director of the Aaron Copland House since 1998, which, I imagine, keeps you quite busy. Are there things at Copland House that you'd still like to explore?
MB: Well, to answer that, I have to turn to a Betty Comden and Adolph Green lyric in one of Bernstein's greatest songs, which closes "Late Night..."—"even a lifetime isn't enough." At Copland House, I feel like a kid in a candy store. We've got countless American compositions and composers still to champion, so many young kids still to introduce to the thrills and adventures of concert music, and literally dozens of innovative program initiatives and ideas still to launch! I could use at least another few decades!

To purchase tickets to The Phillips Collection's Late Night with Leonard Bernstein show, visit phillipscollection.com.



Photography by: Photography courtesy Elizabeth Leslie Photography