Leonard Bernstein turns 100 in 2018, but the music world isn’t waiting until his actual birthday on Aug. 25, 2018, to celebrate.
The fun begins this August on what would have been the legendary composer/conductor’s 99th birthday and runs through 2018. Bernstein died on Oct. 14, 1990, at the age of 72.
Tucson might be at the epicenter of the Bernstein bashes come next January, when the sixth annual Tucson Desert Song Festival becomes a behemoth Bernstein celebration. Over the span of the 19-day festival Jan. 17 to Feb. 4, 2018, a dozen Tucson arts organizations will host 30 concerts, symposiums, presentations, workshops and films during “The Best of all Possible Worlds: A Celebration of the Life and Music of Leonard Bernstein.”
“We’re confident it’s the biggest so far,” said Song Festival Director George Hanson, who was Bernstein’s assistant from around 1984 to months before his death in 1990. “You see a lot of one-off events, but you don’t see anything of this scale. Certainly this is the biggest collaboration.”
Hanson is curating the festival, which will explore every facet of Bernstein’s musical life: classical, jazz, pop, Broadway and Hollywood. The festival opens with the Tucson Jazz Festival hosting the Bill Charlap Trio in an evening of Bernstein songs on Jan. 18 at Fox Tucson Theatre downtown. Tucson Symphony Orchestra has two programs on the festival — Bernstein’s Symphony No. 3, “Kaddish,” on Jan. 19 and 21 at Tucson Music Hall; and “Trouble in Tahiti” on Feb. 2-4 at Catalina Foothills High School — and True Concord is tackling the shortened version of Bernstein’s “Mass” with baritone Jubilant Sykes on Jan. 26 and 28 at Centennial Hall.
The 2018 festival is the organization’s most ambitious, made possible in large part by a $150,000 matching donation in late 2015 from Oro Valley classical music philanthropist Dorothy Dyer Vanek. Hanson said the festival secured more than $200,000 in additional donations, bringing the 2018 festival budget to $350,000.
In addition to helping the arts organizations pay the vocal talent and related expenses, Hanson said the money also will be used to buy advertising in major opera and classical music publications and major festival programs. The goal is more about putting Tucson on the cultural destination map than selling tickets, he said.
That would fulfill the goal of founder Jack Forsythe, who stepped down as board president after last year’s festival.
“What we want is what Jack’s dream was, for people to open up their September copy of Opera News or their program for some major festival and say, ‘Well, let’s see who’s singing at Tucson Desert Song Festival this year,’” he said.
More 2018 festival highlights: Arizona Opera is mounting Bernstein’s comic operetta “Candide” Jan. 27-28 at Tucson Music Hall; and Bernstein’s daughter Jamie Bernstein joins the TSO to narrate the “Kaddish” Symphony. For a complete lineup of the 2018 festival, visit tucson.com/music