Bodhi Tree concerts to honor Leonard Bernstein

The mere mention of the name Leonard Bernstein invokes musical memories of the Golden Age of Broadway — think “New York, New York” from “On The Town” (1944) and “I Feel Pretty” from “West Side Story” (1957). But according to singer Angelina Réaux, who knew the late composer and conductor, there was so much more to Bernstein. That’s why this year’s Bodhi Tree concert kickoff — featuring the song stylings of Réaux with Michael Sokol, with Ines Irawati on piano and Anna Cho on cello — will focus on Bernstein’s lesser-known songs and piano pieces written as gifts to loved ones.

Themed “I Hate Music” (named for a children’s song Bernstein wrote), the concert will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Bernstein’s birth, with profits going to the Alliance for African Assistance. It’s set for 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 3 at the Auditorium at TSRI, 10620 John J. Hopkins Drive.

Réaux said she got to know Bernstein in her 20s, when she was a budding singer. She was personally chosen by Bernstein to play Francesca, the “I know you do” girl, on his recording of “West Side Story,” and sing the role of Mimi in Puccini’s “La Bohème” in Rome.

“Lenny (as she refers to Bernstein) is one of the most important, if not the most important, composer and musical history leader of the 20th century in the United States. He contributed symphonies, operas, choral works, ballets, song literature and works for Broadway,” she said. “There is so much more to him than people realize. People should know him for more than his Broadway works. There is a vast array of music that people may not have heard before.”

She originally put the “I Hate Music” program together for a Bernstein festival in Europe 15 years ago, and performed it New York soon after, but hasn’t performed it since. The program includes Bernstein’s songs with 13 piano “anniversaries” in between.

These “anniversaries” are short piano works that Bernstein wrote as gifts for loved ones, meant to represent the feelings generated by that person. Anniversaries were written for his daughter, wife, friends and lyricist with whom he often worked: Stephen Sondheim.

“Some are witty, some are soulful, some are nostalgically beautiful. They express feelings and are meant to represent his voice,” Reaux explained.

Bodhi Tree concert organizer Diana DuMelle added: “With firsthand knowledge of Leonard Bernstein and his work in a uniquely special way, Angelina is perfect for this. She and her cohorts are amazing local artists. Having performed all over the world, we feel lucky to host her San Diego premiere.”

Like all Bodhi Tree concerts, proceeds go to charity. This concert, dedicated to Alliance for African Assistance, has a special place in DuMelle’s heart. “My husband Walter and I hosted a refugee father and son from Kenya recently, and learned about the Alliance,” she said. “We like to think of these shows as local music that gives back. Our mission is to hire exclusively local artists, but the profits go to charitable partners. Those who attend are supporting all of this by attending. It’s win-win-win.”

Over seven seasons, Bodhi Tree has presented more than 30 concerts and donated more than $25,000 to some 30 charitable organizations including Mama’s Kitchen, Voices for Children, Erase Poverty and Foundation for Women.

The next three Bodhi Tree concerts are:

Rob Thorsen Jazz Trio, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 3 at St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, 743 Prospect St. to benefit the Voices of Our City Choir;

Tribute to Benjamin Britten, “The Little Sweep,” 7 p.m. Saturday, May 19 and 4 p.m. Sunday May 20 at the Performing Arts Annex of City Heights Library, 3795 Fairmount Ave., to benefit Friends of San Diego Public Library;

Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Mikado,” 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23 at All Souls’ Episcopal Church, 1475 Catalina Blvd. to benefit ElderHelp.

IF YOU GO: Bodhi Tree concerts season tickets are $80, individual shows are $25 with discounts. bodhitreeconcerts.org

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