Speaker Well, why don't we just pick up one thing we were talking about before, I just asking for more questions, you were talking about it, which is just get out of the way.

Speaker The since your article is the only thing that has changed in terms of the assessment of one or the information about this has been the change in.

Speaker The information on sexuality and the role of sexuality.

Speaker Yeah, I mean, I don't want to pontificate about this. You know, I'm not the world's greatest expert on Leonard Bernstein sex life, nor am I gay. And so, therefore, it's presumptuous of me to start making pontifications.

Speaker But there is a great story to be written, book to be written, story to be told about the whole role of of gayness in American composition in the 20th century and the social connections, the strains of being in the closet, the benefits or whatever, of coming out, the ethics of being outed by gay activists when you don't want to be outed or when you're dead, etc.. I mean, and, you know, issues about what is gayness and music are kind of meaningless. On the other hand. And Leonard Bernstein had a wife whom he loved and he had children whom he loved. So to simply announce that he's gay and therefore he's one kind of person and he's straight and therefore he's another kind of person, this is ridiculous.

Speaker But nonetheless, he was an exuberant guy and his exuberance spilled over into his sexuality and the sexuality spilled the other way. It could slop, you know, so that that had one aspect to the whole sort of sheer Dionysian quality of his personality reflected itself in part in his sex life. But also, one has to suspect that many aspects of his career and his personality were affected by the strain of trying to to be in the closet all those years. And it's not a story that I can tell, but it's a story that should be told at some point. And it's actually very objective in your life.

Speaker You were not around obviously pretty well.

Speaker I this while I've been following him for a long time. I mean, when I went to. High school and college in New England between. 55 and 62 and I come down to New York during that period and see the odd concert, you know, I heard I'm going to claim a concert that I can't remember the exact details of. But I heard Lenny conduct a concert in which Glenn Gould was the soloist. Whether it was the famous Brahms concerto in which the tempo differences surfaced, I don't believe it was. But I did hear the odd concert. I remember having a fierce argument about 1959 out in San Francisco with a very refined and highfalutin poetic aesthetic type guy that I knew about the value of Leonard Bernstein's educational efforts on television, which I was championing, and this guy regarded as the height of vulgarity and dilution, of the essence of pure art and so forth, so that I was involved in thinking about Lenny the populist, Lenny the educator, and Lenny, the dynamic musical force in my teens. I was not at that point a critic, but I was interested in music and thinking about it. By the time I came to New York in 1970 to hesitate here, he was no longer the music director of the New York Philharmonic, but he was a force who appeared regularly in New York. And I heard him conduct in New York. I heard him conducted Tanglewood and Vienna and so forth. So I'm not in a position to give you a sort of a week by week blow of the soap opera of his music directorship of the New York Philharmonic. But I was aware of that it was going on.

Speaker So you were able to following up his career because I wasn't sure about that. But what I was getting him to be able to talk about how he developed that. Sure.

Speaker I mean, I can bloviate about it. Whether I'm accurate or not is another issue. But I can certainly talk about. Yeah.

Speaker Well. Look, Lenny was a supremely confident. Braasch.

Speaker Showbizzy kind of guy, and I suppose in some of his earlier recordings and performances, some of that came through my own feeling is that a lot of the complaints against his conducting in the 50s and 60s were based more on a snobbish dismissal of him because he had a Broadway connection than any actual thing they heard in the music. I mean, Lenny was a romantic, and that did not mean neat, clean, precise, accurate. It meant broad and expansive and a little, you know, shambling, but at the same time full of energy and vitality. The main thing that happened in Lenny's later career as a conductor was that he worked more in Europe. He worked with greater orchestras and he slowed down.

Speaker And so you compare recordings he made of almost any of the basic repertory pieces with the New York Philharmonic in the 60s with those he made with, say, the Vienna Philharmonic in the 70s and the Vienna Deutsche Grammophon recordings are. Grander, slower, better played.

Speaker But maybe a little more a little lacking in the same kind of energy and brashness that the early recordings and I think, for instance, of a of a set of recordings that were particular favorites of mine when I was a kid, which was Lenny's performances of the Schumann symphonies with the New York Philharmonic, which I think are superior to the ones he made later. Nonetheless, the ones he made later are, quote, better, close quote, and a lot of objective criterion. On the other hand, to go the whole other way and say that Lenny became obsessed with becoming a kind of Ozymandias like grand figure of Germanic grand without the same kind of energy and spirit that he had before is wrong. I mean, some of the later recordings are extraordinary and wonderful.

Speaker So, I mean, that's my basic take, I mean I mean, obviously, if you get to specific works and genres, a repertory, there were some things that Lenny was was incomparable with. I mean, I will defend his Möller to the death. There are those who think that. A more balanced and measured approach to Mahler, as in, say, Bernard Haitink or somebody like that, is a better way to go than a total heart on sleeve romanticism of Lenny. I think Lenny nailed Mahler in the best possible way.

Speaker That Lenny was theatrical and sticky, of course he was, but that was so great, I mean, I remember seeing his Rosenkavalier at the Vienna State Opera in Vienna and he came out for the third act, you know, which has all the waltzes right at the beginning.

Speaker And there's this big bouquet of roses lying on the score, you know, lush red roses.

Speaker And Lenny gives the downbeat and then he picks up the roses and swaying to the music, conducts the waltzes, holding the roses like a baby in his arm.

Speaker Great moment. He did it every performance, you say. So that I mean, it was pure theater, but it was incredibly effective theater. The other area, other than smaller and some especially smaller, of course, but some of the late romantic, the other area in which he was. Absolutely invaluable was an American music, Ive's Copland. You know, those kinds of I mean, he had those rhythms and that vernacular feeling, he nailed it. Now, a lot of that vernacular feeling certainly in our eyes. But Copeland in many others was Jewish and a lot of it was homosexual. I mean, Ives, you know, hateful of sissy men and so forth was not the exception to that rule. But so that, you know, you could argue in this other question that you asked me about, about gayness, that certain things in his past, his Jewishness, his homosexuality and so forth, led him to a certain sympathy, sympathy with these people. But frankly, you can scrap all that. The fact that he was an American and that he responded to those rhythms and also, for that matter, the Latin American rhythms really is the key to it. Well, just to be sure, I mean, I met when I said vernacular rhythms to include the jazz rhythm. I didn't think of Copeland because he wrote some Jewish ish, you know, Shetterly klezmer. He kind of pieces. And, you know, I mean, Virgil Thompson had interesting things to say about Jewishness and Copland's music. I mean, I know once again, frankly, as with the gayness, you don't want to it's not you don't overstress this. Nothing is mono causal here. They're just thread's live to a tremendous amount of inspiration.

Speaker Yeah, sure. I mean, you know, I mean. I mean that. I mean all of the symphonies and especially. Well, sure. There are many threads that make up the fabric to stick to the metaphor of or the cliche of Leonard Bernstein style and personality and so forth, and I don't think it's right to single out any single one, but Jewishness is certainly a key to it.

Speaker I mean, the number of Jewish American composers, especially when you go into Broadway, is Legion in this century. And Leonard Bernstein's music was just just breathe those sonorities, those rhythms, et cetera. In particular, they did so when he was reaching for the big statement, the Jeremiahs Symphony, the Kaddish Symphony and many other other works. He is aspiring to a kind of reconciliation with his own heritage, which he achieved, in my opinion, some of the other major U.S. audiences to say just that you saw some of the other related to this inspired you to talk about this.

Speaker Is that the degree to which we view this great literary text is something interesting. And unless you're a scholar musically, even you know that. So could you talk a little bit about what?

Speaker Sure, I could, but probably not on the level of detail that you would like. I mean, there is no question that Leonard Bernstein was a was a literary and philosophical omnivore. He really read he read a lot and he read deeply and he read passionately. And so when you take the age of Anxiety Symphony, for instance, based on the Auden poem or caddish itself or, you know, all of his theatrical works, there is an intense connection to literary inspirations and to philosophical inspirations. Lenny's musical gifts, in my opinion, exceeded his own gifts as a writer of prose, let alone poetry. But he was inspired to do it in any event and did it passionately and intensely. He was not. To make a cursory judgment, a profound intellectual, but he was intellectually courageous, and by that distinction, I mean that, you know, his use of Chomsky, for example, in those Norton lectures at Harvard maybe was not the most sophisticated adaptation of Chomsky's linguistic theories to the syntax of music areata. You could poke holes in it, but it was smart and gutsy to do it. Also courageous was his very stance in relationship to the tide of fashion. In the 50s and 60s. Here was a guy who championed the works of the surrealists, especially the academic American surrealists, but ultimately came to the conclusion that that was sort of the wrong path and had the courage to say so in the absolute teeth of the opposition to that. Now he seems utterly prescient and correct, but then he was very brave, very brave because he was running the risk and was condemned as an utterly irrelevant and trivial and conservative has been as a composer. And he, being well regarded as a composer, was very important to Bernstine. Yet he stuck to his convictions and and upheld his point of view. How that connects to your question about literary inspiration? I'm not quite sure. But I, I do think that he believed in ideas. He believed in the morality of intellectual positions and having thought through a position, he stuck to it.

Speaker Would you say that there? Would you think that he'd be able to say?

Speaker I think that there's a thread that goes to a great place, which I think there is still something in that piece.

Speaker And that's a good thing. Sure. I mean, yeah. I mean, yeah. I mean, I think like Mahler, Bernstein was somebody searching for religion in a non-religious age. And so that.

Speaker I mean, the connection spiritually and biographically and so forth between Berstein and Muehler are many, of course, many people have pointed that out, but works like the Resurrection Symphony of Mahler or even something like the Third Symphony, which is sort of pagan version of of pantheistic acceptance, all have a larger spiritual agenda. Bernstein was never content to write absolute music, even when it was a supposed symphony or incidental piece of theater music. I mean, it all had a literary, intellectual, moral, spiritual agenda. And that agenda usually had to do with God and man's place in the universe and transcendence and afterlife and things like that.

Speaker Um. Well, I mean, I'm giving you signboards, I don't know what they want to be born precisely, partly of concision and partly because I usually have no more specific to say on a given subject in the end, you know what I mean?

Speaker Because on is no way that there isn't any question. What would be your your overall assessment of music in the 20s?

Speaker Big question. And you can break down and break it down into as a composer. As a conductor. It seems to me when I look at when you're talking about the whole schmear.

Speaker Well, look.

Speaker Everyone in every aspect of life.

Speaker Does not arise from nothing nor disappear into nothing. There's a continuum, there's influences, there's a context from which the person arises or reacts against. And then there's a series of successors, LENY, out of precedence or dumb luck. But I would imagine more precedence than dumb luck. Found himself right ahead of a wave for a long time in his life, he was regarded at the end of a wave. He was regarded as sort of the ebb tide of symphonic conservative ism that was being swept away by the brave new world of of academic serialism and more extreme forms of avant garde ism, many of which he championed in his Philharmonic period. But he was always interested in a romantic statement in these higher spiritual values that he later right out there in. A connection between the high arts and popular arts, between a kind of organic fusion of things held artificially separate by more snobbish, judgmental sensibilities and in a kind of overt expressiveness of interpretation. All of these things reflected in both his composing and his conducting. Put him about 15 years ahead of the curve. So now you live in a time where everybody is eclectic. Everybody is mixing popular music and high art traditions. Many people are interested in a romantic style of conducting to supplant the kind of clipped modernism that's been there for two generations. And Lenny looks like a pioneer. And as I say, and part of that is luck because he was in a given sort of pivotal point between two waves and therefore closed out one, but also was harbinger of another. But. I don't think it was just luck, none of which would mean much of anything if you weren't a very talented fella. Now, his composition. To a larger extent than his conducting, but both to some extent were curtailed by some of the contradictions that worked in a negative way on him. But by and large, the contradictions fuelled the dynamism that made the music as vital and as interesting as it was or is, I think his recordings, especially of Mahler and Ives, but a lot of whose recordings hold up very well. And I think his music, not all of it, but much of it will survive, you know, in.

Speaker In a favorable way in the eyes and ears of posterity.

Speaker It's something that I'd like to talk specifically about music in a moment, but if there's something that I read someplace in Sydney, I probably should've thought of myself. But it kind of makes so much sense when I read it. And I had never thought that conducting is one of the few artistic disciplines where whatever you do is always measured by something in the past, but measured by an expectation that, you know, the painter is at least what the painter's work is being judged, not necessarily as a reference point and back to the past. It's the equivalent of somebody would try to picture.

Speaker And I'm thinking about. Yes. Well, yes and no.

Speaker On the one hand, most art criticism, wrongly or excessively, places judgments about painting in an historical context. Second of all. How is a conductor's reinterpretation of the repertoire any different than an actors?

Speaker And the answer to that is because of recordings prior to the era of recordings. I don't know whether anybody cared much whether Karl Mook's interpretations were radically different than Hants pictures or Hector Berlioz's, but in the era of recordings, the comparable century of interpretation is right there. So not only are you being compared with past work, but you're being compared with echoing voices of past and future interpretations of that work. But I don't think it's inherent. I mean, the art of recreation, of performance is anybody who sings stormy weather is going to be compared in people's minds with 500 other people who send stormy weather. That's not any different than anybody who plays Hamlet is going to be compared to the minds and the memories of people who have seen a lot of performances of Hamlet or dances Jazelle or whatever recordings do, and make it even more difficult. But that in turn, however, in terms of concert life, places a premium on those performers who are born theatrical, spontaneous in your face at the moment, type performers. And that's what Leonard Bernstein was.

Speaker Of the compositions, which do you think are the ones that just survive my.

Speaker West Side Story can be trouble in Tahiti on the town. Uh.

Speaker Those. Preeminently, I think mass is a very interesting case.

Speaker Because it really is malaria and to the point of nothingness, I mean, some of the music designed to illustrate this simple versus complex dichotomy really is simple minded. I mean, some of this stuff is as dated as bell bottoms, if I could say that up until this year when bell bottoms came back. But, you know, bell bottoms and sideburns and Travolta stuff, but.

Speaker But much of it is very, very beautiful, so I'm waiting to see and I haven't got an opinion on the symphonies, I want to think about them, you know, how they hold up. On the whole, his theatrical music is what holds up. I mean, the all time killer work is West Side Story. Candide has book problems which are still being sorted out, but the music is fabulous on the town is fabulous. Traveling to Haiti is fabulous weather. A quiet place entirely works. Although the last time I listen to it, which was several years ago, it seemed to work to me, you know, sort of an expansion and setting Tahiti in an interesting context. And of course, there's a lot of the smaller works that are wonderful. Now, I left out anything obvious that needs to be addressed here. You never know when you're trying to think of. Some of the areas where these are all nice pieces doing well, but I mean, I think the the big, the big, the big killers are those.

Speaker Yeah, yeah, yeah. What is your I mean, what do you know have heard talked about directly or whatever Lennie says about how he would be viewed as what he wanted versus what he said.

Speaker That's a good question. And my answer is more speculative than based on actual anecdote or discussion that I can at least recall right now. I mean, I think that the the one of the many tensions in Lenny's life was.

Speaker Search for serious approbation. And a realization maybe later in life that the search either wasn't necessary or was conducted in the wrong places. In other words. Did he need to go to Vienna and become revered in Europe to be regarded as a great conductor?

Speaker Did he need to write symphonies in order to be regarded as a great composer? Definitely in the 50s and 60s, but in the 70s and 80s, 90s probably not. And if if we take as a point of argument that West Side Story is his greatest work.

Speaker Then maybe he should have written more musicals or more popular operas and spent less time interpreting and and and seeking serious recognition in that sense, because maybe yesterday's seriousness is today's relevance and yesterday's vulgarity is today's mainstream. And maybe what he was slightly embarrassed about being good at was what he was really best at and could have developed even further. But that said.

Speaker He was a great conductor. He liked to conduct he was he played an enormously valuable role as an educator. We haven't even mentioned his piano playing, which is pretty good. You know, he was a sort of omni musician. It just came out of him. And so why cook it up? Just sort of frustrated him. Yes. So instead of when he tried to make this choice of just going to in there and he would have frets or smoked even more, really? Did anybody ever tell you that story in his later years? I mean, I was told this story that that in his last concerts, he would including his very last concert, which I happened to see in Tanglewood, that he would come off the stage gasping for air. Reach for the oxygen tank and then like a cigarette. I mean, we're talking an addict.

Speaker He would have been able to sit through this, you know, this without a cigarette.

Speaker I've seen a lot of film of him where know he was shot, where his body was going to listen to.

Speaker And the parents say that you can't smoke at a level of know bad for them, for the child or whatever. And he says that is I can't listen.

Speaker Yeah, I mean, part of that was generational. But he carried it to enthusiastic extremes. I mean, he was a serious compulsive character, but. He was a cigarette addict, but, you know, a lot of people were in that generation, so on top of this gambling, oh, I don't have anything profound to say.

Speaker He could have been a great piano player. He was a wonderfully good piano player, a wonderfully fluent piano player. He could be on the level of coaching, on the level of the occasional concerto that he would work up in House Musical, sitting around, screwing around at the keyboard. He was just a natural keyboard player. He he did not sustain it on a technical level because he had a few other fish to fry, you know, but he could have been a contender. He was a contender. He could have been a champion, you know, never. So, you know, well, I mean, I don't know. I wasn't there where he ever practiced. I never saw him practice, but I didn't live with him or hang out with him. He I remember being at his house in Connecticut once and he was screwing around with his kids, doing music, you know, stuff. And he was making clunker's all over the keyboard and sort of grumbling about it and complaining to himself that he had. Kept his chops better and all that, but, you know, there's there's fluency at the piano and there is inherent musicality and then there's no perfection. And he didn't have the no perfection, but he had the fluency and the musicality. So what the heck?

Speaker Well, what do you have any stories about his. Anecdotal stories that third hand, if nothing else, about his memory, his phenomenal.

Speaker No, I don't I mean, those kinds of stories are told by everybody about everybody, you know, who's famous, you know, the best one I ever heard was about SANZAR, but that's not relevant to Bernstine.

Speaker I mean, he had a great musical mind and memory, but I never heard stories that suggested that he was more encyclopedic in command, you know that than other musical geniuses and prodigy. So I don't know.

Speaker But there is a story that you have to just look at what's next before there's a story of Mozart doing the same thing with one of Haydn symphonies or, you know, I mean, that's what those kinds of guys do. You play with your apology?

Speaker Yeah, I. I mean, my explanation is, is that the audio memory and the Motoric Connections is a mnemonic device are so intense that it just sinks in as a logical sequence. You hear something, you perceive its structure and it resonates so strongly with you emotionally that it is reproducible.

Speaker I mean, it's not something that most people can do, but it's not something that I find inconceivable to imagine because I did it to me, it seems like.

Speaker Well, listen, I mean, like that Shakespeare play a lot of it, a lot of a lot of people who are less gifted than those kinds of musical prodigies.

Speaker Have quasi photographic memories. By that, I mean, they don't read a book and memorize every word instantly, but they not only know what it is, but I mean, a lot of people do this. You think of a passage of some 100 page work you've read and you know what part of the page it was on. You know you know, that that quote about. His mom's baseball hat is on the left hand side down toward the bottom, so that when you skim through the 100 pages looking for it, you just focus, you're looking at that corner. Well, that's a kind of primitive, partial, vestigial kind of memory that if expanded in and and transferred to music, allows you to regurgitate entire symphonies.

Speaker Well, they own the orchestra rehearsal that I saw most closely and consistently was in nineteen eighty six, I think it was of the severely the Second Symphony with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, you know, the sort of highly gifted kids orchestra. I mean, kids, meaning ages 18 to 22 or something at Tanglewood. And Lenny was playing Isabella a second symphony with them at Tanglewood. He was also sort of working it up to play it with the Vienna Philharmonic that fall. And to record it, I. I can't say that his wrestling technique would have been identical or was identical for every layer of professional orchestra. Clearly, he adapted his personality and his lingo and his slang to suit the audience at hand, in this case, the audience of musicians. These were young kids who sort of were fascinated and idealized in the New York Philharmonic, was another group of people, his pals and cronies to some extent, but also people who might have resented slightly that one of them was conducting them in the Vienna Philharmonic was yet a third group of people. Whether he would talk about Lenny's flexible cast to the Vienna Philharmonic, I rather doubt. Whereas with the kids. Partly sort of. Sort of trying to speak to their level of slang and informality or partly being liberated to speak his own language by their youth. He was he was constantly peppering things with sort of wisecracks and comments and clever little jokes and stuff and encouragement, sort of like a football coach encouraging a team during a practice.

Speaker But almost all all of them were heart on sleeve. They sort of presupposed an absolute identity with his perception of the score and Cibeles, his intention in composing the score, even when that that might not have been reflected in the actual notation of the score, you know, like in. If it's supposed to be tenuta and doesn't say to Newt on the score, but Lenny thought it should be Niro, he spoke directly with the voice of Cibeles to insist that it be tonight. He also had a rather the one thing I do remember particularly is that a lot of people used to complain when he was at the Philharmonic that his theatrics were put on. Well, if they were put on, they were put on in all circumstances for everybody because he had a way of sort of levitating out of his sort of barstool chair that he was sitting on during the rehearsal and sort of leaping straight up like a springboard, like something out of Roger Rabbit or something.

Speaker And I remember that the kids called this Lennie's leap and that at one point there was a party after the Sibelius performance and everybody was dancing. And of course, Lenny was in there schmoozing with everybody of every sex.

Speaker And these kids started going around the room, just, you know, they'd be dancing when they sort of jumped straight up into the air and crashed out on the floor. And this was their homage to Lenny during the Lenny leep. So that is sort of.

Speaker Peculiar not to say manic physicality in conducting was something he just did, irrespective of audience or perhaps even music.

Speaker You know, when Lenny found out he was going to die, he wrote a poem which has never been published.

Speaker So stay right, OK, it's not finalizing the deal with it.

Speaker So I tried to make a deal with God. She was tough to deal with. And it's essentially it's about trying to bargain for more time to write the one important piece, all caps.

Speaker I genuinely believe that Lenny believed that he had not written anything important and that he was.

Speaker I mean, you and you've talked about that wonderfully in terms of the context of the times, why he would not want to hear it. And he often said cuisine is like, I don't want to be remembered as the guy who was just the guy or was his story, but he doesn't remember what he'd done. Somehow that was denigrated in his mind.

Speaker He kind of thought it was a lot of people who are. Great are riddled with self-doubt. Now, when the question comes up, was Lenny great? It depends on what you mean by great, he said, weaseling and waffling is he as great a composer as Mozart now is? He is great a composer as Mahler? No. Is he as great a composer as Jerome Kern? No. Is he a wonderful composer of theatrical works in the American vernacular idiom in the 20th century? For sure. Did he failed to achieve the heights of what he could have achieved as a conductor or pianist or composer of Broadway musicals or serious classical composer by doing all of those things at once?

Speaker Probably. Was he an extraordinary and unprecedented person in American musical life because he did all those things so well? Definitely so. You know, yes, it's sort of a Faustine, if you wish, bargain, but there's pluses and minuses in every side of the bargain. And finalising the deal depends on what deal you're talking about. Trouble or the virtue of Lenny was that he had a lot of deals going all the time. And so the only deal he was talking about, if he was trying to finalize the deal, was some kind of.

Speaker Pantheon establishment, you know, sort of carving his Mount Rushmore bust, but maybe that's not really what counted so much. How would you rate this next story in the American musical theater in terms of this conflict?

Speaker Because I have a face to face and I love life. But to me, it just transcends and I'm not ready. So I would not say that West Side story, in my view, and I am not a lover of musicals above all other genres, that it would me invalidate my answer, you know, but I don't think it stands head and shoulders like Mount Everest above the puny hillocks of the other musicals that surround it. But I think it's a great work and I think it's a great work on a lot of levels. That's got great tunes. It's got clever lyrics. It's got a really interesting book, which is a good story. It's also got timeliness and social conscious and speaking to the needs of the zeitgeist and all of that. And it is a key work in the extremely complicated and interesting story of people trying to transform the musical comedy from Princess Theater reviews of Jerome Kern to Opera. And as such, it's a serious musical work. It is an opera if you take any kind of generous definition of the term opera, it's performed regularly in opera houses in Central Europe. And and the reason it is, is that since those countries do not have a tradition of commercial runs, the people who control the rights are willing to give it to the Opera House. I'm making this up, Dusseldorf, because there's no chance that they can make a ton of money with a commercial run somewhere. It's not just that the Germans are so clever in recognizing the aesthetic worth of West Side Story or for that matter, Fiddler on the Roof or anything else. It's that they can get the rights because the people who control those rights are willing to give them to them. But sure, they've established themselves. I think West Side Story is very important, but I also think Oklahoma is important. I also think a lot of those Rodgers and Hart and Hammerstein shows were important. I think Sondheim's important, I think, for saying three acts important. So there's a lot of different works that fed into this genre of strange hybrid madness. I do think that Leonard Bernstein played a major role in that genre in that time, and I think he could have played, if I have one regret about Lenny, it's that I think that he was ahead of the curve, especially in terms of his own self-confidence, in his willingness to accept his collaborative work in musical theater as a serious endeavor.

Speaker And he felt the need to justify himself in the eyes of his teachers or his father or his God by writing and conducting, quote, serious masterpieces, close quote, when if he had just stuck with. The musicals he could have. Invest them unselfconsciously with a level of seriousness. They were not recorded at the time he wrote them in.

Speaker I agree with you on that. What's interesting, though, is that he took that were serious work and became the greatest popularizer of it existed.

Speaker Yeah, but populariser. Populariser in the absolute best sense. I mean, what makes Leonard Bernstein's educational work both to adults and young people so fabulous is he was just a born teacher. I mean, his explanations of things like Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, first movement, how that cellular structure works, speak on every level, utter accessability, complete intelligence of musical analysis. He wasn't a pop. He didn't popularize in the sense of vulgarized or degrade. He popularized in the sense of making revetted making something vivid in opening doors to it. And he was extraordinary in that. I mean, he obviously would not be remembered to be a subject of a television film like this if he only were remembered as a television or as an educator on television. But it would be an honorable and marvelous legacy to have left if that were all there was.

Speaker Of course, that's not all there was. What kind of things do you think there's a long term impact to the work that we did in education?

Speaker What I mean by that is that the time it was clearly reaching lead to me being exposed?

Speaker Well, look, he he came along Virgil Thompson used to write about something which he called the music appreciation racket. And during the early decades of this century in America especially, but also in other countries, there was an entire industry of sort of dumbing down serious music so that everybody could understand it. I remember as a kid finding a book in my parents' library. This was sometime in the late 40s or 50s by Sigmund Space, in which Sigmund Spath attached catchy lyrics to the themes of every famous sympathy symphony symphony so that you could remember it, and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, which we were just talking about it.

Speaker It was, I am afraid, come let me in. And, you know, it was really, really stupid. And yet this is the kind of stuff that was peddled as culture for the masses. Now, what Lenny did was a avail himself of a medium television that was not previously available and suddenly made the widespread sort of demographic outreach of this kind of idea possible and be brought to it. Such gifts. I mean, everybody in their lives has two or three great teachers that they remember when I mean, I went to school until I was 30 years old. And I can remember three great lecturers in the entire time that I had to sit through endless hours of incompetent or tedious lectures. MAIJA They made me great scholars, but they couldn't talk their way out of a soundproof chamber. And I remember three in, you know, sort of 20 years of serious education. Well, had I known Lenny as an educator, he was the fourth or maybe I did know him through television and he was the fourth, but he was, you know, an astonishingly charismatic person. And did he have an influence? I don't know. He had more of an influence than Mr. Chips, whom you might remember from your childhood as a great teacher, because one remembers Mr. Chips, except you. But and a lot of people remember Mr. Bernstein because they can go to the Museum of Radio and Television and see the kinescopes, but. Whether he in some from the ground up generic way change the way we do music education, I don't think so. He just did it better through a more pervasive medium.

Speaker It doesn't seem actually as if that influence lasted, I mean, it would be wonderful to think that Lenny expose in terms of being kind of serious music like I had ever heard of it or listen to it.

Speaker But I didn't. I mean, it's been written.

Speaker It didn't kind of last well. Great teachers. Great teachers don't last.

Speaker I mean, Wynton Marsalis efforts to to to do that kind of thing. I've not heard him or seen him, but I'm told they're quite effective and. But they will last as long as Whitten's around Dhoom.

Speaker But Lennie's will last some extent because people will still periodically take out and listen to those programs and some of it will be seem dated to them, you know, his sort of hepcat terminology, you know, but but much of it will will survive, whether it survives.

Speaker I mean, you know, teaching is so evanescent. It's really hard to. He he made an impact because he was so good and because a lot of people heard him. But he didn't structurally change the way we look at the world, except maybe in one way. And that is that the very act of stressing that it was permissible to think about. Works of music as great cosmic human dramas or things that involve the life and death and love and sex and hatreds and passions and all was something that was part of his sort of romantic influence at a time of the most extreme formalist positivism in the way music was considered. He was saying this stuff on television and it was hated for it in some quarters at a time where serious people believe that the only way to think about music was in strictly terms of analysis of their structural parameters, harmonic, above all, but also set theory and rhythm and timbre and all that. And he just. Fought it, you know, it went right into the teeth of that mentality and proclaimed something else as such, he was going back to the kind of descriptions of music that people like Berlioz and Schumann routinely used, both of them great critics and both of them great composers. So you can't accuse them of dumbing music down yet. You know, Berlioz described his own works as opium dreams really were opium dreams. And Schuman described them in the most highly poetical, not to say overwrought terms. Yet that was how they thought about music and that was how he thought about music.

Speaker You said earlier that the one thing we haven't talked about is that we actually have something specific, you want to say that this person, you know well, simply that he was truly larger than life and.

Speaker You know, in a sense, he was an egomaniac and overbearing and megalomaniacal and spoiled and not and so I suppose that in the wrong circumstances, one could find that truly oppressive, like, for example, at 4:00 in the morning with a sort of liquor clouded tobacco, we breath breathing into your face as he confided some irrelevant confidence to you. Not that he ever did that to me, but I could imagine that one of the late night outgrowths of these tabloid parties would lead to such scenes. Yet.

Speaker You know, he was an extraordinary person. I mean, you could just sense that he walked into the room and it wasn't just a question of fame. I mean, a lot of famous people who are on television soap operas can walk in the room and you recognize that they're famous, but, you know, somehow care deeply. And, you know, Lenny was famous in the sense that he had achieved.

Speaker Sort of superhuman accomplishments and had a talent that was just sort of so in your face that you couldn't deny it even if you were inclined to do so, which not all that many of us were inclined to do. I mean, he was just when he turned the charm on, nobody was more charming and.

Speaker You know, it was I mean, I did not know him, you know, I spent several days with him doing a story about it, and I saw him perform many times in different contexts. But I still feel privileged to have had the contact with him. I did.

Speaker You still let one little nice little story about when Jamie Nina came into his dressing room and a little exchange.

Speaker But yeah, I did write about that, but I can't hear what they said. I write the end of the story right now is really lovely.

Speaker I like his kids.

Speaker I think they're all well, I like the way you kind of do that. It's also written well, I've created a little creature and I hate recycling things.

Speaker I'm not a performer in that sense. I know what I can. I mean, I don't mean to be uncooperative. It's just that it doesn't seem spontaneous in any. Lenny could do it drop of a hat. You know, I'm not letting them know. But what I want can say is, is that despite all the sometimes really prurient and nudge, nudge, wink, wink commentary about his sex life, and despite all of the complaints and or fascination with the sheer emotional excess and larger than life bravado of his public personality and his performance and all that, that in the very limited way that I was able to perceive it, he had just the most simple and intense and genuine love for his family and that he cared about them. And so that when you're thinking of him, is this sort of Dionysian homosexual orgy asked which to some extent was part of his personality, you have to balance that with the I mean, this was not a deal where he got married and had kids just to sort of get a job with the New York Philharmonic. I mean, he, to my knowledge, loved his wife and he definitely, to my direct observation, loved his kids. That's terrific.

Speaker He was very clear about his. Performance, especially its performance in the late 50s, I think it was with the New York Philharmonic of the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony, I wrote an article in The New York Times sometime sometime. The 70s or 80s, God knows when I think in the mid 70s, claiming presciently, I might say that Shostakovich would be the Mahler of the late 20th century, that the discovery of Mahler effectuated largely through Bernstein would be succeeded by a realization that Shostakovich had a similar level of intensity. And the musical personalities have much that are different, but much that they're similar to. And that and that the mixture of populism and elitism, although some might think was forced upon him by Stalin, also reflected a genuine part of Shostakovich's personality that I was drawing connections between Shostakovich and Mahler. And I believe that Lenny was a Shostakovich interpreter or could have become one of equal. I mean, I don't think Shostakovich ever would have spoken to Lenin quite the same way that Mahler did, if nothing else, because of the Jewish connection that Mahler had. Yet I have never heard a performance of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony to equal Lennie's in passion and intensity and just sheer sort of overwhelming drive. And when I think back upon the LENY performances, that really got to me almost everything he did with Mahler, especially the Third Symphony in his 50s recording. It does lead one to add.

Speaker And certainly those Schumann recordings, some of his Sibelius, but right up there is that Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, which brought out the kind of searing and intense and sort of anguished, passionate side of of Lenny as well as any other music.

Speaker Did you know that he had the opportunity to perform in Russia with Shostakovich?

Speaker Oh, I know it was that famous to return to Moscow. Yeah, right. I share a great experience that isn't that recording on a pirated record? I think so. It is. Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Speaker What do you want to talk about. It just didn't really it's surprising that he didn't do so.

Speaker So also I mean he did concert performances act by act of Tristan, but he never really got a handle on Tristan or was going to think he did Rosenkavalier.

Speaker He did Fidelio. What else did he do? Falstaff, which I saw. I did not see the Carmen did not see the media. Yeah. I think actually that's an interesting point that you make, because have Lenny been a German or a Central European? Indeed. Had he been Gustav Mahler, he would have come up in the world of opera as a conductor. And the symphonic thing would have been an interesting offshoot thereof as it was as an American. He came up in the world as an interpreter of symphonic music, but given the intense that totality of it, he. He stuck with symphonic repertory largely, and when he took an operatic approach to his own music, he tended to weigh it down, such as his rather poor recording of West Side Story, which is, of course, largely subverted by having a Spanish tenor singing the Anglo part, which is absolutely nuts. But his candidacy, you know, the late one is a little heavy handed as well. I mean, the great stuff in it. I mean, I think he's probably All-Time most successful. Operatic recording is probably the Rosenkavalier, I can't remember the Fidelia need to record for any I can remember. Yeah, yeah. And the first time is very good, although officialese goes not to the manor born is a very deep baritone.

Speaker But I mean, his work with so I agree with you completely is so I really think that he would wait.

Speaker No you're right. And I guess I guess the accidents of his career. Such as.

Speaker Torn between being music director of the Philharmonic and then his concert work for the Vienna Philharmonic and. Wanting to compose made it very hard for him to just go off and rehearse an opera, for he didn't have the patience for probably. You know, a lot of people who have been involved in the collaborative aspect of music theater.

Speaker Get testy about it later in life, I mean, Resorbed did a lot of that early on, but he doesn't really want to do up anyway, just doesn't have the time. I want to make the compromises. And Klemperer was the same way. He did a few concert performances when he found himself a grand old man.

Speaker But, you know, didn't really go back into the trenches, as it were, as both Klemperer and Missour had been in their youths. Lenny was never in the trenches in that sense, but he was in the trenches in running all those musicals and obviously didn't want to spend as much time as he would have needed to spend. When he was away from the ark, away from his family, away from. Other possible composition or conducting opportunities to devote three months to the creation of an operatic. You know, major operatic statement that said the opera he did do was made you wish he'd done more.

Speaker Just one final thing in the three days that you spent with him. Is that the most time you did? Did you learn anything about him during those three days that you didn't know?

Speaker Well, I didn't know much. I mean, about him as a person. So everything I learned was new in that sense. I mean, I knew that he was, you know, who he was. I mean, I guess the kind of.

Speaker Insinuating sort of oil and gas or even sort of smarminess of his approach, especially if he was on the make, was a little bit amusing to watch.

Speaker I mean, he was. Sort of. Lamore got and a kind of clinging and excessive way, you know, he was a kind of the kind of guy, whether you choose to invoke the Jewish stereotype of the Irish stereotype of the New York guy in a bar stereotype or whatever stereotype you want to as the kind of guy who you really expect to find, you know, with his arm draped around you at 3:00 in the morning in a bar and you're trying to get away and he can't, you know.

Speaker So there was this element of kind of smothering closeness about him.

Speaker Would explain a lot about his emotionality, about his relationship with his family and all of that. I didn't think it was any more or less genuine. It was just, you know, seeing it in 3D made it quite clear.

Speaker But, you know, I mean, the other thing was just, you know, that it's all well and good to read about somebody who was so sort of. And manifestly talented in so many different ways of pouring out of it in terms of dealing and manipulating people and all of that, he was. He was extraordinarily special and people who came into contact with him knew it instantly.

Speaker As did I, my abilities to note these things were not blunted by cynicism or, you know, fear, they I mean, he was it was very easy to sort of give yourself over to an admiration of his guests without necessarily giving yourself over to him personally. Not that anyone was asking, but you know what I'm saying. And it was it's it's like meeting somebody who's like a charismatic cult leader or something, you don't necessarily have to become a follower of Gurdgiev. I assume I've had I met Gurdgiev to recognize their gurdgiev had some sort of X factor that was compelling to people and Lenny had that X factor.

John Rockwell
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-dr2p55f23d, cpb-aacip-504-xk84j0bt8r
"John Rockwell, Leonard Bernstein: Reaching for the Note." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 10 Nov. 1997,
(1997, November 10). John Rockwell, Leonard Bernstein: Reaching for the Note. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"John Rockwell, Leonard Bernstein: Reaching for the Note." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). November 10, 1997. Accessed July 04, 2022


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