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A moment! At Skidmore’s 2nd Bernstein night, a gift

Chronicle Managing Editor Cathy DeDe writes: Sometimes a concert is about so much more than just the music.

Skidmore College’s second concert in its celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s centennial this year was such an event — music, yes, and edifying at that — but the wallop this concert punched had everything to do with a series of connections greater than any one of its parts.

From nearly the get-go, the concert felt like a collaboration with the audience.

Consider its structure: After a warm introduction, they opened with a five-movement, highly intellectual piece Bernstein wrote in 1954 for violin (played here by Michael Emery of the Glens Falls Symphony), with string orchestra and percussion.

It was inspired by the characters in Plato’s Symposium, musical portraits of ancient Greek philosophers, best appreciated with some smarts if you had ’em.

After the concert Alexander Bernstein (right), the son of Leonard Bernstsein, met with guests, including some of the kid narrators of Carnival of the Animals, who are seen here. Chronicle photo/Cathy DeDe

Before the show, at intermission and afterwards, students in Skidmore’s Bernstein Seminar displayed posterboards of their research about episodes of the musical figure’s famed Young People’s Concerts — connections to be made, table by table.

Then there was a lengthy but charming panel talk with two esteemed adult musicians who had performed as youths in the Young People’s Concerts. This was accompanied by clips from the televised series, including Bernstein’s very introductions of our guest artists, back when.

I loved seeing in the clips how easily Bernstein talked sense about music to the kids in the audience.

His adult son, now an education advocate, was in on the panel too. A star!

Finally, charmingest of all, they warped time to perform Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of Animals — the piece our two then-young guest musicians did. They repeated it here with brilliance. I cried to hear Gary Karr on the double bass swell through his unusual transcription of the iconic and lovely “The Swan,” virtually a teardrop of music itself.

Narrations were taken from Bernstein’s script of the time, themselves adapted from Ogden Nash’s cheery text. Here they were performed by an exquisitely rehearsed gaggle of Saratoga schoolchildren in their dressed-up best.

The absolute elation of the night was the Saint-Saëns Finale, when a couple of the youngest among them let loose, dancing in their seats in perfect time to the lively music.

Like the children immortalized in those Young People’s Concerts, these kids have learned something lasting, in the wisest, kindest way.

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