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Pittsburgh Symphony Pops celebrates the brilliance of Leonard Bernstein

| Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Leonard Bernstein
Pittsburgh Symphony
Leonard Bernstein

The Pittsburgh Symphony Pops is getting a jump on the musical world by celebrating the centenary of Leonard Bernstein's birth this week with a concert focusing on his musical theater masterpieces.

Bernstein, a multi-talented genius, was born on Aug. 25, 1918. He was brilliant as a composer, pianist, conductor, educator and more.

His big early successes were on Broadway, culminating in "West Side Story" in 1957, but after becoming music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1958 conducting dominated his work.

Francesco Lecce-Chong will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops in "Bernstein Centennial Celebration" Nov. 10 to 12 at Pittsburgh's Heinz Hall.

At 30, Lecce-Chong, who is in his last season as associate conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony is too young to have known Bernstein, but he has been a presence in Lecce-Chong's life anyway.

"When I went to the Curtis Institute of Music, where they pretty much have him adorned everywhere, ... I saw much of what I wanted to be in Bernstein's work," he says.

The Pops concert is his first chance to dive into Bernstein repertoire, and he knew he didn't want a chronological approach.

"Bernstein was a composer who thought in bigger terms than just a song," Lecce-Chong says. "That's how I developed the program to flow very easily as we perform excerpts from his great stage works."

The 1944 musical "On the Town" about three sailors on leave in New York City will be the starting point. One of its hits is the sexy song "I Can Cook, Too" which will be sung by Alli Mauzey.

Six excerpts from 1957's "West Side Story" will occupy most of the first half with singing by the Pittsburgh Symphony Student Chorale, Mauzey and Hugh Panaro. The orchestra will get to shine in "Mambo" and "Cha-Cha."

The concert also includes two non-theatrical instrumental pieces. Symphony violinist Zhan Shu will be the soloist in the first movement of Bernstein's Serenade after Plato's "Symposium," and clarinetist Ana Victoria Luperi will be featured in the jazzy "Prelude, Fugue and Riffs."

Bernstein's 1953 show "Wonderful Town" won five Tony Awards, including best musical. "It's Love" and "Swing" will represent its story about two young women seeking success in New York City.

The four excerpts from "Candide" (1956} will start with the Overture, one of Bernstein's most often performed compositions. Also included will be the hilarious "Glitter and Be Gay," with its send-ups of opera and a wickedly funny text. The heartwarming and aspirational ensemble "Make Our Garden Grow" will conclude the concert.

Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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