Lenny at 92

Host Nadia Sirota Celebrates Leonard Bernstein

Wednesday, August 25, 2010 - 04:37 PM

My earliest summer memories as a Tanglewood lawn-rat in the ‘80s are laced with concerts, barbeques, and Leonard Bernstein sightings. The most vivid hero of my childhood, Bernstein had a mythic, God-like quality for my family; he could literally do no wrong. My own grandmother was fond of the following joke:

Elderly concert-goer 1: That Bernstein, he writes, he conducts.
Elderly concert-goer 2: Well, you know, he’s a bisexual
Elderly concert-goer 1: Is there anything that man can’t do?

Leonard Bernstein was a man of supreme charisma and fantastic talent. A conductor, composer and educator, Bernstein was an undying advocate for composers, new works, new ideas, and the concept of music as a living art in the modern world. For all of these reasons, Bernstein seems a sort of spiritual antecedent to Q2.

Therefore, in honor of what would have been Bernstein’s 92nd birthday, I am devoting Wednesday’s Nadia Sirota on Q2 to Lenny. I am particularly pumped to play excerpts from his fairytale 1943 debut concert with the New York Philharmonic at the age of 25, a last-minute substitute for a flu-stricken Bruno Walter. In addition, I'll feature recordings of Bernstein’s interpretation of Ives’ Symphony No. 2 (premiered a mere 50 years after its completion), many of his lesser-known early compositions and of course some colossal hits.

I hope you can join me in celebration of New Music's 20th-century hero!

PS -- For more Lenny-related goodness, check out WNYC's 13-day Our Lenny festival from a couple years ago!

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Nadia Sirota

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Comments [12]

concetta nardone from Elmont, NY

My qualifications Richard: In my teens, would get the opera librettos from the library in order to read the scores during the Met broadcasts. Prompted operas for a small opera company during the 60s and 70s. Grew up listening to Toscanini and NBC Symphony. Know whole scores especially the Eroica. That is how I kept catching Dear Lenny during the final movement. Yes, great showman, never boring and his young people music show that I watched on Sunday afternoons was great how he explained all the various types of classical music. BUT HE WAS NOT A GREAT CONDUCTOR. Some friends of mine who are musicians remark that he was not a great conductor. So there. All of this worship is very puzzling. Could never understand this cult.

Nov. 03 2010 02:28 PM
Michael Meltzer

Everyone seems to know about the run-in between Bernstein and Glenn Gould over the Brahms D-minor, but no one seems to ever mention the last concert of that weekend series, Gould performing the Bach D-minor on Sunday afternoon, on live TV.
Gould was seated to the left of the podium, just behind Bernstein's line of sight. Whenever Gould had a free hand, he conducted, and the musicians seemed to be following him, not Bernstein. When Gould came to the final chord, he extended his hand in a cutoff motion, and the NY Philharmonic string players stopped. Bernstein still had his baton in the air in a big ritardando, and spun around like he had been struck. Just like the light-bulb joke, "no one was watching."
Around the same period, the Philharmonic offered an "Avante-Garde" concert that was undersubscribed, and a block of comps was given to the Manhattan School of Music students. A bunch of us went, and our seats were clustered around our music lit./music history teacher who happened to be Michael Steinberg, who went on to become chief critic of the Boston Globe and celebrated commentator.
When Bernstein was conducting a piece by Luigi Nono (Schoenberg's son-in-law), Mr. Steinberg had the score open in his lap, and was following the playing with his index finger of the left hand on one page pointing to the strings, and his right hand on the opposite page pointing to the winds and brass. When it was time to turn the page, the orchestra was on both sides of it, and never got back together.
If Bernstein ever knew, he never let on, and never fixed it. For Toscanini to have ever had such a lapse is unimaginable. If Bernstein has his fans so be it, but they shouldn't try to rewrite history and create a "legend of the podium" that never was.

Sep. 19 2010 06:30 PM
Paul Lella from New Jersey

I've come to appreciate Lenny's conducting more and more over the years. I really disliked him in my youth - far too pompous I thought. Now I love most of his DGG recordings from the 80's, probably because of the better sound he was afforded on that label. I especially love his Sibelius 1st which I find to be the best recording ever of that piece. He really shines on opera recordings and I loved his Carmen at the Met,
Sadly, as a man Lenny appeared to fall far short of his professional image. His wife, a noble Huspanic lady, put up with his overt homosexiality for years. The press graciously 'didn't go there' most of the time.
Our greatest American conductor.

Sep. 16 2010 09:46 AM
Helene Spierman from Valley Stream, NY

For an amusing exposition of all of Lenny's talents, check out the lyrics to "The Saga of Lenny," a parody by Stephen Sondheim of Kurt Weill/Ira Gershwin's "The Saga of Jenny," from LADY IN THE DARK.
http://www.sjsondheim.com/saga.html

Sep. 14 2010 10:12 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from www.WagnerOpera.com

Back in the 1960s when my performing opera was just past its beginning stages, I heard many Europeans refer to our Lenny with a revereance and awe for his accomplishments as conductor of THEIR music and his zesty unique truly "American" style and rhythmic inventiveness. After one Saturday afternoon "Met" performance of "Cav" & "Pag," backstage,k in his dressing room, he told my friends and me, that, since he was conducting "Falstaff" that evening, he was taking it "easy" with the orchestra, not demanding the visceral "liveliness" characteristic of a Bernstein performance. Being an opera composer myself, it is refreshing to watch the totality of one who crusaded for the living composers, yet had time for evangelizing also to the young, in his "Young Persons Concerts," analyzing and playing with orchestra the masterworks of the great composers
of the past. Kenneth Bennett Lane, Wagnerian heldentenor and director, the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. Website: WagnerOpera.com

Sep. 09 2010 01:44 AM

Concetta-

Interested to know your qualifications.
Thanks.

Sep. 04 2010 04:18 PM
concetta nardone from Elmont, NY

Oh please, he was a lousy conductor. Great showman, he helped make classical music more popular and his weekly Sunday specials on tv were very educational. But he was not a great conductor. His tempos were terrible because he had to do his little dance whilst conducting. Just listen to the orchestra tripping all over the final movement of the Eroica symphony because he could not rein in the various contrasting tempos. Do your dance Lenny, do your dance.

Sep. 04 2010 12:28 PM

This is great, I hope it will stay up, and, great reference to the WNYC "Our Lenny" project.

Aug. 27 2010 04:19 AM

The whole "Our Lenny" project by WNYC is still up at http://www.wnyc.org/music/bernstein/.

Also, the PBS "Leonard Bernstein-Reaching for the Note" video is available from Netflix, and well worth it.

Aug. 25 2010 05:53 PM

The special is over, I heard it all, it was a spectacular tribute, it would be great if you could put it up "Cued Up" style, the whole file, and the individual slices.

Curating this project had to be daunting - what to include and what not to include. It would be a shame if it now went into a drawer of forgotten projects.

And, BTW, I do not think he was at all terrified. Lenny was always a master at seizing the moment.

Aug. 25 2010 05:25 PM
Michael Meltzer

Instead of your announcers repeating, "Leonard Bernstein would be 92," you would do your listeners a service if they said, "Leonard Bernstein would be 92 if he hadn't smoked cigarettes," especially your younger listeners.
"There wasn't anything he couldn't do" except fool Mother Nature.

Aug. 25 2010 04:18 PM

Wonderful tribute to a unique spirit, thanks! And no, there wasn't anything that man couldn't do. :-)

Aug. 25 2010 01:24 PM

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