Jeffrey Siegel To Play Tribute to Leonard Bernstein in Philadelphia

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Jeffrey Siegel’s Keyboard Conversations are inspired in part by Leonard Bernstein. | Steve Purcell.

When Jeffrey Siegel was a 17-year-old student at the Juilliard School in New York City, he attended a Leonard Bernstein concert. His excitement only started with the performance: Siegel was called to meet Bernstein backstage afterward.

“If you were a young musician he immediately made you feel comfortable with him,” Siegel said.

That interaction helped inspire Siegel’s burgeoning music career, which will take him to Philadelphia on Oct. 15 with his Keyboard Conversations series. The Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater will play host as Siegel honors Bernstein, who would have turned 100 in 2018.

Siegel will also feature work by composers Aaron Copland and George Gershwin.

“We’re living in a very impersonal, computerized society today, and great music today is more necessary than ever before,” Siegel said. “I feel the success of these programs, because I do them now in nearly 20 cities, is [testament] to what Bernstein called the transformative power of music.”

Keyboard Conversations are concerts with a twist. Instead of simply playing classical music pieces, Siegel frequently interjects his own commentary. Before he plays a piece in full, he gives some brief background and plays a few excerpts out of context.

“It makes the listening more focused for the listener, and they feel like they’re on the inside track,” Siegel said. “When they hear the piece, they’re not just absorbing the sound.”

The series celebrated its 50th anniversary at Northwestern University’s Pick Staiger Concert Hall on Oct. 4. It is based out of Chicago, but over the years Siegel has taken the show on the road.

Siegel said the format is, in part, inspired by Bernstein. It’s led to great success, as Siegel is scheduled to tour through 14 cities — each with multiple stops — in the coming months. In fact, after this swing through Philly, Siegel will be back in 2019 for shows on Feb. 18 and April 22. He also has three dates scheduled in London through May 2019.

He has a special treat scheduled for Oct. 15: He’ll be playing a previously unpublished piece of Bernstein’s called Meditation on a Wedding. The piece was given to Siegel by Humphrey Barton, who authored Bernstein’s eponymously titled biography.

Barton “heard one of my Keyboard Conversations programs and he felt Lenny would be so very proud of what I was doing,” Siegel said.

In fact, Bernstein expressed that sentiment to Siegel before he died, according to Siegel. There have been no shortage of celebrations for Bernstein’s centennial this year, and there are sure to be many more.

But Siegel believes his personal connected with Bernstein makes his tribute special, and he’s eager to share his experience with Philadelphia.

“There are senior citizens today who find the great music in their life is very nourishing, and the program we have coming up in Philadelphia is particularly so,” Siegel said. “It’s made up of three Jewish composers, and each one wrote music in their time that are classics today. They are played all over the world all the time, giving people a great deal of pleasure and nourishment.” l


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