An Appreciation
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Happy Birthday…

“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

“Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”

“The key to the mystery of a great artist is that for reasons unknown, he will give away his energies and his life just to make sure that one note follows another…and leaves us with the feeling that something is right in the world.”

“I’m no longer quite sure what the question is, but I do know that the answer is Yes.” 

“Any great art work … revives and readapts time and space, and the measure of its success is the extent to which it makes you an inhabitant of that world – the extent to which it invites you in and lets you breathe its strange, special air.”

“Music, of all the arts, stands in a special region, unlit by any star but its own, and utterly without meaning … except its own.”

“To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.”

Leonard Bernstein – whose birthday we remember on this date.


I’ve always been a huge fan of Bernstein.
Ever since my performing days, and my first exposure to musicals.
My high school teacher dragged me along to a gig, of which I knew nothing about.
Perhaps she had mentioned it, but I was clueless by the time I got there.

Imagine my delight, and the profound effect upon an impressionable young boy, to discover that peculiar beast known as the Broadway Musical, and to have my first exposure to it be…

West Side Story.

And then to discover Bernstein the conductor.
With all the albums.
And all the PBS specials of him conducting the greatest orchestras.
And the greatest composers.
And to watch him conduct the Lincoln Portrait, with Copland himself as the narrator.
And to watch Bernstein yell at Copland, for coming in at the wrong place.

Copland only wrote the work, for God’s sake.
But Bernstein was right.


Fast forward to the late eighties, just before he died.
I was given a chance to see him conduct, and I wasn’t going to miss it for anything.

At Lincoln Center that night, the foyer was lined with music stands with signs on them.
Basically stating that the evening’s performance was being recorded, for a possible future release. And requesting extra diligence in keeping quiet.

Never an easy request, where New York audiences are concerned.
But this was Bernstein.
Long retired, but very much revered in New York.

But then again, this was Ives they were performing.
As in Charles Ives.
An acquired taste, if ever there was one.
Most people never get very far, in the acquiring.

This was Bernstein.
For a New York classical music audience, they were being very good.

The concert started with a work whose name escapes me at the moment.
But I remember it had a number of very short movements.

The orchestra finished the first movement.
And from the audience came this massive… adjustment.
Almost like a physical sigh.
Not quite noisy, but very much as if the people were adjusting their positions.
Getting comfortable.
Settling in for the quite obvious long haul.

Bernstein turned around to the audience and said:
“You’re really going to hate this one,”
Spun back around and gave the down beat for the next movement.
And an extremely straight-laced New York crowd spent the rest of the piece giggling.


I leave you with a composer of whom Bernstein was not necessarily as closely associated.
The incomparable Leonard Bernstein, conducting the equally incomparable Vienna Philharmonic, in Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2.
A work more than one person has likened to Beethoven’s 5th, both in structure and in construction.

There’s a book out there called “Beethoven, Sibelius and the Profound Logic”, written by a Lionel Pike. Brilliant, and to my education, seminal.
I own two copies.


Image found here.



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