Rockford's Independent Newspaper

RSO festival celebrates musical icon

By Guy Stephens 

The Rockford arts community will celebrate musical icon Leonard Bernstein during the month of April.

The festival, “Leonard Bernstein at 100,” is being led by the Rockford Symphony Orchestra. RSO Education and Community Engagement Director Margo Stedman said Bernstein’s many accomplishments as a composer, conductor and music educator are reason enough to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth.

But there is another reason, she said, that she finds really exciting: Bernstein’s links to the city. Bernstein’s life-long secretary, Helen Coates, was born in Rockford and graduated from then Rockford College. And Bernstein himself came to the College in 1966 to deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary degree.

“The fact that he came to our community,” she said, “that he was so connected through this woman, Miss Coates, [who] was such a big part of his life, makes it really special that we’re able to celebrate his contribution to the American musical landscape.”

Stedman said getting a grant for “Leonard Bernstein at 100” from the National Endowment for the Arts was a boost, and not just financially.

“I think bringing that prestige and recognition to our community is really important,” she said, “especially as Rockford continues to grow and thrive, and people are feeling positive about Rockford and all of the positive things that are going on around here. This is just adding and contributing to that, and we’re really proud of that.”

The festival also received funding from the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois. Stedman said the grants reflect the efforts she and many others put in over the past two years to create a festival showing the many facets of Bernstein’s genius.

Stedman said the festival is a citywide collaboration, with many Rockford arts and cultural organizations and institutions — including the RSO, Rockford Symphony Youth Orchestra, Rockford Dance Company, Rockford Arts Museum, Rockford University Performing Arts Department, Mendelssohn Chorale, and others — participating.

Performances and other events will span several weeks, from April 12-28.  Classical WNIU 90.5 will broadcast an encore presentation of the April 28 RSO concert on May 7 at 7 p.m.

A schedule of festival events, as well as information on Bernstein and his links to Rockford, can be found at its website, Leonard Bernstein at 100.

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