Historic visit to Chichester for Leonard Bernstein's son - 53 years after Chichester Psalms premiere

Alexander Bernstein is in Chichester for the first time since 1965 – for a performance of the Chichester Psalms written by his father Leonard Bernstein.

The last time Alexander visited the city was for the work’s premiere more than half a century ago. Now the Psalms are being performed again in Chichester Cathedral (on Saturday, November 24) with Alexander in attendance, as the culmination of the Bernstein in Chichester festival.

Lenny Bernstein and Walter Hussey (right)

Lenny Bernstein and Walter Hussey (right)

The festival, which concludes this weekend, marks the centenary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth.

Alexander’s arrival in Chichester immediately brought back happy memories.

“I was ten when I was here, and we were here for four days, I think. We got to travel quite a bit with our parents which was wonderful, both for the vacation and because my dad enjoyed bringing us on tours with the orchestra, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, which was really, really fun. He enjoyed having us around, and it was so much fun meeting such extraordinary people and seeing the world and such interesting places.”

In 1963, Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester Cathedral, wrote to Leonard Bernstein asking if he would compose a piece of choral music for the Southern Cathedrals Festival in 1965. Bernstein accepted. The Chichester Psalms were the result.

And their premiere in Chichester still stands out in memory for Alexander, more than half a century later.

“We travelled a lot, but Chichester was special. It was so exciting that it was the premiere. And it was so exciting to be staying with someone we didn’t know in somewhere that wasn’t a big city. My sister and I enjoyed every moment of it and we loved the fact that everyone was speaking English. I have been back to Britain dozens and dozens of times since. I have got friends in Brighton and London and Alderney, but so far, until now, I have just missed out Chichester! But last night, driving from the station, I saw the cathedral, beautifully lit, and it was ‘Oh yes!’ I remember my father being so happy and excited.

“Travelling around this year for the centennial celebrations of my father, I know my father would have loved it. Everyone who knew him or met him and even people who never knew him or met him and just saw him on TV, everyone just seems to have such a powerful connection with him. His music was so genuine, but his personality was such that people just really feel that they knew him, and I just love that.

“He was always such a lot of fun. He was always right there. He was so sharing and tactile and so full of life.”

The Bernstein in Chichester Gala Evening will open with the acclaimed one-man play Walter & Lenny devised and performed by Peter McEnery, based on The Leonard Bernstein Letters. It traces the friendship of Dean Walter Hussey and Leonard Bernstein, the fruit of which was one of Bernstein’s most frequently performed and popular works. Then author and music critic Nigel Simeone will welcome Alexander on stage. (Assembly Room, The Council House, North Street, Chichester PO19 1LQ. Friday 23 November 2018 | 7:00 pm)

The Chichester Psalms with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra will be in Chichester Cathedral, Chichester, PO19 1PX. Saturday 24 November 2018 | 7:30pm

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