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Leonard Bernstein—the conductor, composer, and American musical impresario—was descended from a long line of Russian Jewish rabbis. That Talmudic chain was broken when his father emigrated from Russia and went into the beauty-supply business. Or maybe the Rabbinic gene just skipped a generation. Bernstein may be best known for the mambos of West Side Story, but he also composed sacred works, and he subtitled his third symphony the “Kaddish.” A combined work for choir, orchestra, and narrator, the symphony debuted in 1963 and was dedicated to the memory of President John F. Kennedy. The traditional Hebrew prayer for the dead is juxtaposed with expressions of doubt, and the existential struggle is reflected in the sometimes-atonal music. The Baltimore Symphony will perform the symphony at Strathmore on Sept. 29. Marin Alsop, the BSO’s music director, studied conducting with Bernstein in 1989, the year before he died, and like her mentor, Alsop looks to connect classical music with the community beyond the concert hall. Tonight, a panel of experts, including musicologist Saul Lilienstein, Jewish Federation of Greater Washington scholar-in-residence Erica Brown, and two local cantors, discusses both Jewish mourning rituals and Bernstein’s deeply personal symphony.
The discussion begins at 7 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, 6125 Montrose Road, Rockville. Free. bsomusic.org. (877) BSO-1444.