A GoPride Interview

Hershey Felder

Hershey Felder interview with ChicagoPride.com

Wed. October 19, 2011  by Michael J. Roberts

Hershey Felder

Michael J. Roberts interviews the great Hershey Felder as he returns to Chicago

The great Hershey Felder triumphantly returns to Chicago in "Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein". Mr. Felder has always been one of my favorite people to interview. The reason is that he will always know more about the subject matter that the interviewer because he literally becomes that person that he is conveying on stage. Knowing that, I delved into my research of Leonard Bernstein so I would seem somewhat knowledgeable for my interview. My appreciation for Bernstein has grown immeasurably because of it. I watched many of his Young Peoples Concerts and viewed his masterful conducting of Symphony Fantastique. I always have loved Bernstein's music, especially his Mass, but in researching for the interview with Hershey, I too became re-connected through Bernstein though his music and majesty.

Whether it is Chopin, George Gershwin, Beethoven's friend or now in his current incarnation as Leonard Bernstein, Mr. Felder is passionate and respectful of the material and the people he portrays. Mr. Felder is also a masterful musician in his own right which gives a greater truth to these legends of composition.

MJR: Hi Hershey, it is so great to speak with you again. The last time we saw each other was a few years back when we spent New Years together with you in the guise of George Gershwin.

HF: Ah, yes. I remember that very well and I had a great time in Chicago as usual.

MJR: You have told the stories of some of the most influential people in music history, including Beethoven, Chopin and Gershwin.

What made you choose Leonard Bernstein?

HF: I pursued it mainly because I kept getting asked by different people I respected, such as different theatre directors to explore the possibility of creating a piece about Bernstein. After pondering it for a while I decided it was the right time to do it and from the response, I believe I have made the right decision.

MJR: "Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein" had its initial inception at the Ravinia Festival a few years back. How has the work developed since then?

HF: How hasn't it changed!? It is not even the same piece. As in anything that is in its infancy, we needed to figure out what we wanted to convey from this man's amazing life in a short amount of time. It took shape fairly quickly but it is a totally different experience than at Ravinia.

MJR: Do you find it easier or harder to portray a person who is still so prevalent in peoples' lives as opposed to a more historical character such as Chopin?

HF: I find it much easier because you have people around that knew him well and can give you a more accurate center how he reacted to certain events. Also, with that said, it is a bit more daunting because those same people who knew him and participated in the events that are going to be watching the performance and will expect that the material be truthful to their own interpretations of the events.

MJR: As a great musician yourself, how has Leonard Bernstein influenced yourself?

HF: I first came to know his work when I was a kid through his Young Peoples Concerts, which were groundbreaking at that time, and still are. Those concerts truly bridged classical music to a more mainstream audience. I was a beneficiary of that. He also responsible for my musical life as he is widely considered and American musical scene as it has come to be known today.

MJR: How did Leonard Bernstein's' childhood and his relationship with his father contribute to who he became?

HF: That is an important question Michael, because it is his childhood and his father's roots in the Jewish traditions that made him who he became. His father, after much disruption, finally realized that music was his son's passion and gave his blessing to pursue it.

MJR: Leonard Bernstein became a mentor to thousands and thousands of kids through his Young People's Concerts. Who was Bernstein's greatest mentor?

HF: Definitely Serge Koussevitzky. He is the one who shaped him the most.

MJR: When discussing the life of Bernstein, his sexuality always seems to come into play, especially in regards to how he left his wife for a man when she was diagnosed with cancer. How is that dealt with in ‘Maestro'?

HF: It is dealt with honestly. Bernstein had a lot of guilt that he carried with him until his death over this incident. You have to remember how different times were back then. He enjoyed both sexes, that is apparent but that is only part of his story.

MJR: How do you feel about his musical legacy?

HF: He was a genius. As a conductor, composer and musician; a genius. The problem came when the public didn't always readily accept his material. The popularity of West Side Story as well as his symphonies and the fame of his concerts brought him great fame in the 1950's and 60's. However, in the 70's he had a very hard time when his opera and his Mass were not as well received by critics and the mainstream. He always felt though that it was through his Young Peoples Concerts that he had his greatest impact. Mentorship as you stated.

MJR: As with your other shows, Joel Swick is your director for Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein. What is that process like between the two of you when it is basically a one man show.

HF: Well, it is really never a one man show.

Joel and I have worked together so many times that we don't really have to speak to communicate what needs to be done. We respect each other and always focus on the end goal of respecting the person that is being represented on stage.

MJR: What do you want the audience to take away from your performance?

HF: His genius.

MJR: Thank you for speaking with me again and I can't wait to see you.

HF: Looking forward again to seeing you and thank you for the forum.

Hershey Felder in MAESTRO: The Art of Leonard Bernstein, is a new work from the creators of George Gershwin Alone, Monsieur Chopin and Beethoven, As I Knew Him. With a story spanning the entire Twentieth Century, Leonard Bernstein, America's greatest musician, broke through every artistic ceiling possible to become the world's musical ambassador.

Hershey is known to Chicago audiences for his 70 record-breaking weeks at the Royal George with his George Gershwin Alone and the World Premiere of Monsieur Chopin. His annual appearances at the Ravinia Festival have become a Chicagoland tradition.

Conductor, composer, pianist, author, teacher, librettist, television star...for Leonard Bernstein boundaries simply did not exist. Join us on this fascinating journey as Hershey Felder brings the composer of West Side Story, Candide, Mass and more to life.

Performances begin November 1, 2011 at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted St., Chicago.

For tickets, please call the box office at 312-988-9000 or visit www.theroyalgeorgetheatre.com

Interviewed by Michael J. Roberts. Michael J. Roberts is theatre editor for the ChicagoPride.com covering Chicago's diverse arts and entertainment scene.

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