Marking Bernstein's Massachusetts Debut

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Leonard Bernstein in 1955, making annotations to musical score. (Wikimedia Commons)

On June 12, 1938 — 75 years ago today — a 19-year-old Leonard Bernstein gave his first performance as a composer-pianist in Brookline, Mass., performing his Music for the Dance Nos. 1 and 2 and Music for Two Pianos. This week's Showdown offers three pieces by a more mature Bernstein — music from some of his celebrated works for the musical theatre and ballet stage.

West Side Story's "Symphonic Dances," a Bernstein classic, led the race all morning and at noon we played it performed by the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Alan Gilbert.


Comments [17]

Les from Miami, Florida

My favorite works by Maestro Bernstein are from the 1940's with the exception of "Candide", so I vote for "Fancy Free" because I love the swagger and insoucience exemplified by "Enter Three Sailors", the beauty of "Pas de Deux" with (or despite) all the meter changes, Variation 2 (Waltz) that seems to foreshadow Bartok's "Intermezzo Interrotto" from "Concerto for Orchestra", and that fantastic coda from Variation 1 "Galop" that employs 12-tone technique for 10 seconds or so and then ends like a satire of Porky Pig's "a babeeya a babeeya, that's all folks!"
that ended cartoons by Warner Brothers. I'm the one fan of the Maestro's music who doesn't like "West Side Story".

Jun. 14 2013 09:43 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

HYH, you are right. I sometimes get carried away. Some years ago, the comedian Robert Klein did a very funny take on Bernstein conducting the Dances from West Side Story.
Best wishes

Jun. 12 2013 12:26 PM
KatWomanNYC from NYC

This was a tough call. Do prefer the maestro doing his own stuff, but this WSS is sublime.

Jun. 12 2013 12:23 PM
Jm from New Jersy

None of the above.
Chichester Psalms instead. It would have fit nicely in the time allotted.

Jun. 12 2013 11:54 AM
Bernaldo from New York, NY

I always get chills up my spine whenever I hear the composition of West Side Story. It is such an exciting piece to stop what you are doing and enjoy.

Jun. 12 2013 11:43 AM
HYH from Nassau as well.

I love Candide (fond memories of playing percussion in orchestra at what was then High School of Performing Arts) but chose West Side Story. WQXR -- please play both. I respectively disagree with Concetta from Nassau. I think Lenny was a great conductor and composer. However, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, that is the beauty of music and art in general. But, I'm not sure calling him a glamour puss, calling out his political correctness in an accusatory tone and accusing everyone who liked Maestro Bernstein elites is exactly being civil. Let's focus on the music and agree to respectively disagree! Viva Bernstein, indeed.

Jun. 12 2013 11:38 AM

I voted for Fancy Free. I would much rather have heard one of his weightier works such as The Age of Anxiety or Chichester Psalms or maybe even the three dances episodes from On The Town. But one takes what one is offered and Fancy Free isn't heard as often as the others. Still, Bernstein's music is enjoyable and deserves a more frequent hearing than just West Side Story.

Jun. 12 2013 11:09 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

My best memories I have of Dear Lenny was the tv show he hosted that explained the different types of classical music. But he was not a great conductor nor composer. So So his music which he wrote so that he could do his little dance on the podium. I watched a program whereby he almost fell off the podium. He was a glamour puss and beloved of the elite because he was SO politically correct.He actually threw a party for the Black Panthers. Don't be angry you elites out there. I do know something about music, reading opera scores since I was eleven years old. In the good old days, the libraries had music scores that you could take out. I am being civil.

Jun. 12 2013 11:05 AM
Miles from Montclair, NJ

My vote is for the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. Just this past Saturday night, I heard them gloriously performed by the student senior orchestra at the La Guardia High School of the Arts in Manhattan. The piece is so splendid, I would love to hear it again, this time with maestro Gilbert and the NY Philharmonic's performing this spectacular dance suite from one of the greatest works of the American musical theater.

Jun. 12 2013 11:03 AM
Tom from Montclair, NJ

Why can't you offer some of Bernstein's lesser known works? What about his "Chitchester Psalms"? What about his "On the Town" suite? We ALWAYS hear his "West Side Story" and "Candide". Still, you're a wonderful station, and I'm proud to be a supporter. Love all the hosts (but Annie Bergen the best)!

Jun. 12 2013 10:48 AM

Oh, Fancy Free, please. We get to hear WSS and Candide fairly frequently, Fancy Free not so much!

Jun. 12 2013 10:36 AM
Sheldon from Woodmere

I need a wake-me-up by lunchtime. "west Side Story" does the trick. Candide would be my second choice. Ah but that WQXR would play both back-to-back...

Jun. 12 2013 10:34 AM
Daniel Seiler from Poughkeepsie NY

The West Side Story symphonic dances are the most well-known of these pieces and "not for nothing"; for those of us who know a lot about classical music and feel another selection deserves more weight (than it currently receives), it is good to recall how much West Side Story did to popularize classical music in general and therefore make room for less mainstream works like Candide and Fancy Free (although I may have my chronology wrong with those particular pieces). In any event, viva Bernstein!

Jun. 12 2013 10:34 AM
kriss from Piscataway, nj

Can't resist West Side Story dances!

Jun. 12 2013 10:19 AM
Andrew B. from Lower Merion, PA

My guess is that West Side Story will win, but I am encouraging everyone to vote for the Candide Suite--it is great music and fantastic recording! (So is Fancy Free, but the Candide Suite has some real special moments)

Jun. 12 2013 10:08 AM
Howard Feder from Great Neck

Somehow his music and his conducting always brings the city into focus for me

Jun. 12 2013 09:36 AM

Dudamel conducting 'Mambo' from "West Side Story."

Jun. 12 2013 12:10 AM

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