Of the centenary tributes accorded Leonard Bernstein this year, few could be more personal than the one given by his daughter, Jamie Bernstein, along with soprano Amy Burton and pianists Michael Boriskin and John Musto at the Phillips Collection Sunday afternoon. Throughout “Late Night with Leonard Bernstein,” Jamie Bernstein’s compelling narration was punctuated by music, photographs, and film clips. For a concept that could easily have devolved into shtick, this struck the right balance between biographical portraiture, charming nostalgia, and loving remembrance.
Though there was plenty of Bernstein’s music in the program, we also heard music by composers who influenced him, as well as things he liked to play when he inevitably sidled over to the piano during late-night parties. Aaron Copland, the man whom Bernstein called his “only true composition teacher,” was represented, as were songs by Noel Coward and Marc Blitzstein, among others.
Particularly touching was a film clip of Bernstein himself croaking through the lyrics of a Blitzstein song as he accompanied himself at the piano. “Zipper Fly” told the tale of a poor shoeshine boy who dreams of a fine suit, never worn by anyone else, and equipped with a zipper fly. Watching this spontaneous performance, it was easy to recall the infectious ease with which Bernstein communicated his love of music. The same irresistible enthusiasm animated the “Young People’s Concerts,” those television broadcasts with the New York Philharmonic that shaped the musical tastes of a generation of Americans.
Burton, who could make you weep singing the federal budget, Boriskin and Musto, himself an outstanding pianist-composer and Burton’s husband, each contributed to the engaging, relaxed atmosphere of this moving afternoon. As for Jamie Bernstein, all fathers should have such a daughter to lovingly perpetuate their memory.