Leonard Bernstein conducted in the Vatican for the second time recently, leading the orchestra of the Academy of Santa Cecilia. In his first Vatican appearance in 1973, Bernstein conducted the Verdi Requiem for Pope Paul VI.
While Pope John Paul II could not be present at the concert earlier this month, top Vatican officials attended, headed by Secretary of State Cardinal Casaroli. The program was composed entirely of music by Bernstein, including his latest work, "Halil," for flute, strings and percussion. "Halil" was written, Bernstein says, "as a tribute to the spirit of Yadin Tennenbaum, a 19-year-old Israeli flutist who was killed in 1973 while riding in a tank."
Like much of Bernstein's music, "Halil" depicts conflict, in this case the conflict between wars and the threat of wars, and the hope for life and peace. Some years ago when Tennenbaum's parents asked Bernstein to write a composition in memory of their son, he explained that he does not accept commissions. The new piece came into being a few months ago when a tune came to Bernstein that he heard as a tune for flute and that subsequently developed into "Halil."
The remainder of the program included the revised version of Bernstein's Third Symphony, the "Kaddish," which he conducted in its world premiere in the Kennedy Center last March, and three Meditations from "Mass," the work he wrote 10 years ago for the opening of the Kennedy Center.
All of the artists performing at the Vatican contributed their services as a benefit for the Hospital of the Infant Jesus, and Bernstein sent the equivalent of his concert fee to Amnesty International in memory of his late wife, actress Felicia Montealegre.