The Arty Semite

Taking Lessons from Leonard Bernstein

By Ezra Glinter

  • Print
  • Share Share
Bernstein conducting the New York City Symphony in 1945 (Wiki Commons)

Revealing the secret behind a magic trick is usually not a good thing, but when it comes to real artistry, uncovering the nitty-gritty details of creation can often deepen our appreciation of an artist’s genius. In the case of Leonard Bernstein, a few recent and forthcoming releases help pull back the curtain on the composer and conductor’s creative methods.

The first of these, and the subject of a recent New York Times article by Allan Kozinn, is the release on DVD of seven appearances by Bernstein on the “Omnibus” TV series that ran from 1952 to 1961. The program “made the details of music and music making accessible, usually without dumbing down, to a broad audience,” Kozinn writes.

The effort undertaken by the “Omnibus” production team (particularly Henry May, the production designer and art director) to find creative ways to stage a program about music’s nuts and bolts is especially striking. In the first, “Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony,” the stage floor is a greatly magnified reproduction of the score’s opening page. When Bernstein discusses the work’s instrumentation and how Beethoven used it…. he has single players, with their instruments, line up in the order they appear on the page.

If there is a weakness to these programs, Kozinn notes, it might be Bernstein himself:

Not everyone admired this professorial-rabbinical side of Bernstein. By the end of his tenure at the Philharmonic, members of the orchestra complained about his tendency to morph into a lecturer during rehearsals and concerts. And Tom Wolfe, in his 1970 essay “Radical Chic,” offered a devastating gloss on Bernstein in teaching mode.

“Anyone who has spent a three-day weekend with Lenny in the country, by the shore, or captive on some lonesome cay in the Windward Islands knows that feeling,” Mr. Wolfe wrote, “the alternating spells of adrenal stimulation and insulin coma as the Great Interrupter, the Village Explainer, the champion of Mental Jotto, the Free Analyst, Mr. Let’s Find Out, leads the troops on a 72-hour forced march through the lateral geniculate and the pyramids of Betz, no breathers allowed, until every human brain is reduced finally to a clump of dried seaweed inside a burnt-out husk and collapses, implodes, in one last crunch of terminal boredom.”

Fortunately, for the more specialized audience who might be interested in investigating Bernstein’s technique without having to listen to Bernstein explain it to them, the New York Philharmonic will soon be making Bernstein’s marked conducting scores available online. The undertaking is the result of a $2.4 million grant from the Leon Levy Foundation, and will eventually include 1.3 million pages from the Philharmonic’s archives. Bernstein’s scores are the first step in this ambitious project, and are supposed to become available some time this spring.

Watch Bernstein discuss early versions of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on “Omnibus”:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, Music, Leon Levy Foundation, Fifth Symphony, Ezra Glinter, Classical Music, Beethoven, Allan Kozinn, New York Times, Omnibus, Radical Chic, Tom Wolfe

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.