Religion & Spirituality in the Music of Leonard Bernstein

MON, MAR 12, 2018 (1:26:10)

Leonard Bernstein’s identity as both a composer and conductor was deeply influenced by a combination of his own Jewish heritage and the place of religion in 20th Century society and culture. This panel explores, through the Jeremiah and Kaddish Symphonies and Mass, the impact of those formative religious experiences and the wider existentialist doubt of life in the nuclear age on the man and his music. Audio clips of Leonard Bernstein via The Bernstein Experience on Copyright: Estate of John Gruen. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Special thanks to Julia Gruen. Hear more on Bernstein Week panels are supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Special thanks to the following for providing research and content: Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives New York Philharmonic Archives Loeb Music Library, Harvard University Congregation Mishkan Tefila Archives The Bernstein Experience at

+ BIO: Brian McCreath

Brian McCreath is the Executive Producer of WCRB’s Boston Symphony Orchestra and weekly In Concert series of broadcasts. He also produces and hosts both The Bach Hour and supervises digital content production for He came to WGBH from a diverse background in music. With degrees in trumpet performance from the New England Conservatory of Music and The College of Wooster, he spent several years as a musician, including two years with the Symphony Orchestra of the State of Mexico and five years as Principal Trumpet of the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra. Ideas about the business of music, combined with an entrepreneurial spirit, led him into artist management in 2000, and radio wasn’t far behind. He worked on the production team for the talk shows of Wisconsin Public Radio’s Ideas Network in Milwaukee before moving to Boston in 2001. Three years later he joined the classical music production staff of WGBH. Since then, in addition to those noted previously, his roles have included programming and hosting weekend mornings and weekday afternoons.

+ BIO: Dr. Jonathan Sarna

Dr. Jonathan Sarna is University Professor and the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History and Chair of the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University. He is also past president of the Association for Jewish Studies and Chief Historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. Dubbed by the Forward newspaper in 2004 as one of America’s fifty most influential American Jews, he was Chief Historian for the 350th commemoration of the American Jewish community, and is recognized as a leading commentator on American Jewish history, religion and life. In 2009, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Sarna has written, edited, or co-edited more than thirty books, including Lincoln and the Jews: A History (with Benjamin Shapell) and When General Grant Expelled the Jews. He is best known for the acclaimed American Judaism: A History. Winner of the Jewish Book Council’s “Jewish Book of the Year Award” in 2004, it has been called “the single best description of American Judaism during its 350 years on American soil.”

+ BIO: Joshua R. Jacobson

Joshua R. Jacobson, one of the foremost authorities on Jewish choral music, is Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Northeastern University and Visiting Professor and Senior Consultant in the School of Jewish Music at Hebrew College. He is also founder and artistic director of the Zamir Chorale of Boston. He holds a Bachelors degree in Music from Harvard College, a Masters in Choral Conducting from the New England Conservatory, a Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Cincinnati, and an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from Hebrew College. Prof. Jacobson is past President of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Choral Directors Association. Over one hundred of his choral arrangements, editions and compositions have been published, and are frequently performed by choirs around the world. His book, Chanting the Hebrew Bible: The Art of Cantillation, published by the Jewish Publication Society in 2002, was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award, and the revised expanded edition was published in June, 2017. He is co-author of Translations and Annotations of Choral Repertoire—Volume IV: Hebrew Texts, published by earthsongs in 2009.

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