Eve Bornstein’s first ‘get’ upon taking over as executive director of the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts nine years ago was an old friend —legendary Puerto Rican guitarist José Feliciano, whose rendition of “Feliz Navidad” is one of the most-played songs of all time.
Feliciano spent much of his childhood in Spanish Harlem and had toured worldwide, but had yet to play at a performance center just a hop step away in the Bronx. Bronstein convinced him to give the Boogie-Down a shot.
“He came down and loved it,” she said. “He was so enthused, he didn’t want to stop performing.”
Such big names are becoming common at the Bronx’s only performance arts center. Bronstein has already brought headliners such as B.B. King and Patti Labelle to a borough where such artists had never played before.
“It’s enormous prestige for the Bronx,” Bornstein said. “We are still fighting that perception that the Bronx is burning. Some people still do not want to visit.”
This season’s lineup should convert those skeptics into Bronx believers. Feliciano will be back, along with a slew of other renowned artists. On Sunday October 26, Grammy-award winning pianist Peter Nero will play the 2,300-seat Bedford Park auditorium.
Bronxites and others can also check out a series of international acts. On tap in the coming weeks: a Hungarian folk ensemble, a Russian a cappella group, and an Israeli symphony orchestra.
Bornstein books all of these acts with a tiny team from her cozy office on Lehman’s campus. She’s also in charge of promotion, funding, and even does the center’s accounting.
The job is not easy, but Bornstein, who left Krakow, Poland as a teenager and has spent her life working various performance arts jobs around the globe, relishes the chance to bring world-class artists to the borough.
“It’s in my nature to be adventurous,” she said. “If a job is too easy for me, I’m not interested.”
Bornstein commutes to the Bronx these days on the No. 4 train from the Upper East Side of Manhattan. But she said she loves spending time in the borough.
“I try to spread the idea of how beautiful this place is,” she said.