The first childhood piano of Leonard Bernstein, usually housed in the lobby of Slosberg Music Center on campus, is going on a two-year nationwide tour celebrating the 100th anniversary of Bernstein’s birth. The tour, called Leonard Bernstein at 100, is a traveling exhibition celebrating Bernstein’s career as a successful conductor, composer and musician. The exhibit will premiere in Washington, D.C. at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Sept. 21, 2017, according to the exhibition page on the Grammy Museum website.
The exhibition was created by the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, California, which holds exhibitions that celebrate a diverse range of musical genres and people. About two years ago, a member of the museum contacted Ingrid Schorr, Director of the Office of the Arts at Brandeis, asking to borrow Bernstein’s piano for the exhibit. Schorr works with both the Music Department and the Office of the Provost. The process of getting permission to borrow the piano from the Music Department took about two years, which included the Grammy Museum president coming to Brandeis to look at the piano.
The piano is nicknamed “Aunt Clara’s piano,” because Bernstein’s Aunt Clara gifted him the piano in 1928 after witnessing his natural musical talent. Years later, Brandeis Professor Nahum Glatzer, who used to work in the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department, bought the piano from the Bernstein family. After Glatzer’s death, his daughter, a Brandeis alumna from the class of 1962, gave it to the Brandeis Music Department, where the piano now lives.
In addition to Bernstein’s childhood piano, the exhibition will feature items like his conductor’s baton, the desk used to compose “West Side Story,” handwritten score sheets for songs from “West Side Story,” including “America,” “Tonight” and “Maria,” photographs and more. The exhibition will also include interactive displays that allow visitors to gain “deep access into Bernstein’s creative mind and music legacy,” according to the online exhibition page. Other locations of the tour will include New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Tulsa, Chicago and Portland, O.R., according to the exhibition flyer in Slosberg.
Bernstein was a professor in the Music Department at Brandeis from 1951 to 1956, where he created and directed the Festival of the Arts for the university’s first commencement in 1952. The Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Creative Arts, now a weeklong celebration every spring, honors his legacy at Brandeis. “The annual Festival of the Creative Arts showcases nationally acclaimed performers and visual artists together with music, dance, theater, film, and artwork by more than 300 Brandeis students and alumni,” according to a Brandeis webpage.
The Brandeis campus will also be celebrating Bernstein’s centennial anniversary, which will officially begin in August of 2018, said Schorr. This will include Festival of the Arts events centered on his work, classes taught about him, and campus-wide events celebrating his life and career, according to Schorr, who said that “there is going to be programming around the world celebrating Bernstein.”