America had traditionally been perceived as a poor cousin to Europe when it came to classical music, but since the 20th century, it has become one of its leading exponents.

Hailing from a country of immigrants, American composers not only incorporated the traditions of their lands of origin, but also drew from the evolving traditions of an entire continent largely overlooked by their European counterparts.

Few have been as influential in America’s ascent as the great composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, and in a concert marking the centenary of his birth, the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra showcases the many influences that created his – and America’s – distinct style.

Directed by one of the world’s most-renowned interpreters of works by 20th century American composers, Wayne Marshall – a Valletta resident – the concert opens with the Chichester Psalms, one of the works in which Bernstein’s Jewish heritage is most evident.

The music of West Side Story, appropriately for a retelling of Romeo and Juliet featuring warring Puerto Rican and European gangs, is clearly influenced by Caribbean musical traditions.

The concert concludes with a performance of the overture and suite from Bernstein’s operetta Candide, notable for bringing together – and doing so successfully – numerous musical traditions ranging from traditional European dance forms to what the composer himself described as “Jewish tango”.

This concert is supported by the Valletta 2018 Foundation.