8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
I'm not surprised that, as personal friends of Leonard Bernstein, Steve Reich and Marin Alsop are quoted so enthusiastically on the jacket of this book: it must be wonderful to have a document which to some degree resurrects someone one personally admires or loves. However, I confess that though I acknowledges Bernstein's high status as a composer, conductor and teacher (I still remember a thrilling BBC broadcast of one of Bernstein's superb lectures - on Tristan in this instance - in the sixties) I am not so much in thrall to his mercurial brilliance as a conversationalist.
As a (truncated) newspaper/magazine piece (which it was, originally) the content would be engaging enough, but in my opinion there simply isn't enough here beyond 'personality' to justify its publication in un-filletted form 25 years later. Of course Bernstein is gifted, sensitive, cultured and brilliant: he knows he is and much of the interview is about ensuring his admiring interlocutor thinks so too. For example, he says much about Mahler, a composer with whom he was particularly associated, and whom I particularly love, but I didn't find what he had to say particularly helpful or informative (though I'm sure he could be) in the context of a discursive chat that leaps all over the place and touches on an impressive range of topics without really saying much especially enlightening on many of them. (It is actually surprising how few composers and their works he actually talks about.)
If you love Lenny, then this is probably for you. But if you are looking for serious developed insight into conducting, music etc, as I was rather than be a fan, then I suspect this will disappoint: compared to the recent hour long interview with the late Colin Davis on BBC 4, which got under the skin of the man and had some very interesting things to say about the music he loved and the art of conducting, this is thin stuff: I confess I also get rather irritated with Bernstein's conversational showmanship. If that seems like a predictable gibe, I should stress that I DO admire some of Bernstein's work and recordings - though I have to admit I can't bear to watch him conduct as I find his overt emoting very distracting and in danger of almost becoming the focus of the experience, perhaps the fault of the visual directors of such films rather than the conductor. (Perhaps the Davis interview would have seemed less interesting if given in an extended form!) I am not prejudiced against Bernstein's flamboyant persona - I just don't want to feel it the raison d'etre of whatever I'm experiencing.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Feted conductor and composer; polymath; civil rights supporter;
educator; hedonist and humanist. Leonard Bernstein was all these
and more. Passionate; funny; irascible; insightful; foul-mouthed.
A ball of energy so great the world could hardly contain him!
'Dinner With Lenny' is a gripping and inspiring recollection of
writer Jonathan Cott's 12 hour marathon conversation with Bernstein
at his home in Connecticut in November 1989, when at 71 he had
just one more short year to live. Mr Cott was a lucky fellow!
For a man not given to granting interviews Bernstein seems very much
at ease with his inquisitor. He certainly doesn't hold back on giving both
him and us a candid picture of his life and loves and work. There are some
marvelous insights into his thoughts about music and composers (especially
Gustav Mahler); the management of his own restless muse and the importance
of remaining open to life-long learning and communicating that experience.
I found myself thinking of Bernstein as a kind of 'transmitter';
a man who might help us make sense of the intangible and ephemeral
nature of beauty by enabling us to both feel and share something
of his own responses to music and creativity in its many forms.
Above all else, perhaps, the narrative captures Bernstein's innate
sense of playfulness. It is a generous, amusing, heart-warming
and deeply moving picture of a very great man. A cultural colossus.
To listen to Berstein's live 1986 recording of Mahler's Fifth Symphony
with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is perhaps the shortest route one
might imagine to the possibility of catching a small glimpse of heaven.
A Terrific Read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
In 1989 author Jonathan Cott was commissioned by 'Rolling Stone' magazine to interview Leonard Bernstein and subsequently produce a 8000 word article based on that interview.
As it turned out the interview lasted for 12 hours, all captured on tape, and turned out to be the last interview that Bernstein gave. Obviously, the material Cott collected far exceeded that required for his commission and hence this book came into being.
It is divided into three logical sections. The Prelude which gives us background information on the life and times of Leonard Bernstein, the Interview itself, and the Postlude in which Cott sums up his impressions of the interview and the man himself. He also covers the subsequent months leading up to Bernstein's death in October 1990.
Bernstein was always a complicated man with outspoken views on almost every topic you could imagine and there is no holding back on the subject matter covered here from is Jewish faith to modern popular music.
If you are the least bit interested in Leonard Bernstein get hold of a copy of this book, it may not be the biggest tome ever produced on the man running to only 172 pages but it's a fascinating read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I enjoyed this book. Jonathan Cott is at ease with his charismatic and voluble subject and asks very pertinent questions to which Lenny responds in great detail about his passion for music and the arts. If you are a an admirer of Bernstein's art this book will give innumerable insights into how the great maestro spent his long career in the service of music.
As a conductor, I saw the great man only once, irritatingly jumping up and down and groaning as he whipped Mahler's second symphony into shape. Bernstein, such a larger than life figure, could never be subsumed by the music, he was part of it. Some will find this aspect discouraging, and there are moments in the book, where you want to shout stop, as the ego takes over. In other parts Lenny is on sparkling form and nowhere more so than when he evangelises about music for young people. In this sphere he was, by all accounts a superb exponent, and the book brings this out.
An entertaining and exceedingly interesting conversation which admirers of the great american maestro will enjoy enormously.
This is a joyous, fascinating and moving book. Leonard Bernstein spoke eloquently and often with great wit: If you're ever lucky enough to see a rebroadcast of one of his television lectures you will be entertained by that friendly, lived-in face and the animated voice, the occasional flourish of the conductor hands. You will be treated to a unique style of teaching - to Lenny, the television was a new classroom. What you could learn from such a great guy, who welcomed you into his wonderland of musical magic...
Here in this beautiful book, Jonathon Cott relives his twelve-hour conversation at Bernstein's home, enjoying food and wine and unprecedented access into the heart and mind of Lenny. Apart from the constant returns to a mutual fascination with Mahler (which gets irritating if you're not in love with the composer's work - I don't mind admitting to gasping 'Enough Already!' as I read another instalment), the musical subject matter is in fact enormous. Bernstein's musical wonderland throughout this book includes composers as diverse as Mozart, Kurt Weill, the Beatles and Gershwin (and then some!). There are also some hilarious anecdotes: An Indian musician's attitude to a Mozart symphony. Glenn Gould's particular Brahms tempo. Bernstein's synthesizer (the pay-off line is a peach!)
Lenny was also a great philosopher: 'There's an inner geography of the human being that can be captured by music, and not by anything else'. '... exposing oneself and being exposed to new music... treating it not as the 'alien', but as a friendly cohabitant of the planet'. For any music lover - not just Classical fans - this book is priceless. God bless Lenny!
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This short read was both much more, and much less, than I expected. It is the transcript of a 12 hour conversation (interspersed with listening to Bernstein recordings) which journalist Jonathan Cott completed with Leonard Bernstein in 1989, a condensed transcript of which was published in Rolling Stone magazine.
Less than, because I was hoping for more detailed analysis of some of the works and composers Bernstein was particularly associated with (Mahler, Beethoven as well as his own works) I realised pretty quickly this was an impossibility, that what I really was after was what he did with specific works in an Omnibus series - music must be illustrated by listening to the orchestra demonstrate what is being described.
More than, because, as in his music, what almost overwhelms from the off is Bernstein's overflowing joy in life, of which of course, music was integral.
The product description talks of Bernstein thus : "Bernstein truly led a life of Byronic intensity"
WRONG! The quality Bernstein expressed in abundance in his music and life was Joy and Love (not happiness, which stands in relationship to joy as pretty does to beautiful). Byron certainly lived life with hectic energy, anxious to sup it all up, but he was not noted for love of his fellow man or woman (other than in a sexual sense)
By contrast, Lenny loves. And that lover's passion spills into the music, the embracing of music different from his own cultural background, poetry, musicians, composers, education, children, writing, sex, humanity, freedom, equality,.....and the word he keeps using to describe his relationship to life, to music....play...we play music, musicians play their instruments.
Leonard Bernstein even at the end of his life was spring-like, had a quality of youthfulness, hopefulness.
And to come back to Joy and Happiness. Happiness is evanescent and ephemeral and innocent, Deep Joy exists as something more timeless, and holds an understanding of its opposite - Sorrow, Loss, Longing and Pain. It's a saying YES to life, to the everything of life - and that is something which pervaded Leonard Bernstein.
And explains a final image in this book - by all accounts, along the route of his funeral cortege as his body passed through Manhatten on its way across the Brooklyn Bridge, some construction workers "removed their yellow hard hats, waved, and shouted out "Goodbye, Lenny!"
That sort of Lover of Life, that YES to Life, is contagious
On his deathbed, Leonard Bernstein who had spent his life in the joy of music, that most communicative of human endeavours, asked to be read the following words, from that other great lover and mystic, the 13th century Persian Sufi Poet Rumi
"Last night in a dream I saw an old man in a garden
It was all love.
He held out his hand and said, Come toward me"
This book is full of treasure. I had no idea just how phenomenally wide was Bernstein's knowledge and experience. As revealed in this interview, he was a true Renaissance man, able to work in so many musical fields and to excel.
Of course, his work (especially conducting) wasn't to everyone's taste, but the reader gets to understand why his style developed as it did. He was able to talk at length about his influences and how he synthesised these into his performances.
In a way you wish that it was an audio book because of the added depth his voice would give to what he was expressing; it would produce a more passionate level of engagement.
Truly worth reading over and over again.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This book, although slight in size, is a fascinating document which casts a wonderful sidelight on Bernstein - the man & the musician.
Cott had a God-given opportunity to spend an evening dining with Lenny in order to write a magazine article; an evening during which Lenny's profound insight, sparkling wit and broad-ranging interests are brilliantly showcased. His love for Mahler, Mozart and Beethoven shine through and it makes a splendid companion to his recordings. I think Lenny found something of a kindred spirit in Cott, from the exchanges they had, which sprawled over 12 hours, broken by Lenny's assistant bringing in fresh courses etc (the chicken pot joke is a classic Lenny moment!).
The reminiscences from his long and varied musical career come thick and fast, though I suspect Lenny may gild the lily here and there for effect. His story of Karajan begging him "on his deathbed" to take over the BPO strikes me as a bit odd. After all, Karajan died instantly of an unheralded heart attack in 1989 and, in any case, the constitution of the BPO as a self-governing body would not permit one autocrat to simply arrive and pick-up the reins where his predecessor had left off!
Cott has faithfully recreated the evening from his tapes and the book is a treasure for any music lover or admirer of Bernstein. I had to smile at the wine glass stain on the cover as that sums up the fascinating (if well-lubricated) evening and the journey the reader can take into the mind of this singular and irreplaceable musician.
All in all, then, a great little book to read and re-read with unalloyed pleasure.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Since Leonard Bernstein's death, I have come to appreciate his amazing contribution to the world of music as composer and conductor. I have reviewed quite a number of his recordings and find a fantastic magnetism about what he does. Sometimes it is a bit much but I am always glad to have been in his company. The only gap in my appreciation of him is in his appreciation of him as a talker and writer about music although I have [or have had] recordings in which there is a spoken word track in which he expounds on the music he is conducting.
I do regret, however, that I was brought up regarding him as a rather brash 'popstar' musician who lacked any real gravitas either as a conductor or composer and missed out on many opportunities to appreciate his talents.
I was delighted to get hold of this very slim volume, which I read in one evening. It gives an edited highlight of 12 hours of interviews over a day/evening with Jonathan Cott, which represented Bernstein's last ever interview. I have enjoyed reading it and learned quite a lot from it. There is some settling of scores and little digs at some of his contemporaries but it also conveys Bernstein's real joy of music - I just wish I'd been less of a snob in the past.
I was interested in what he had to say about the imfamous ultra slow performance of Brahms' 1st Piano Concerto with Glenn Gould in which he apparently distanced himself from Gould's interpretation. The thing that is strange is that the recording that you can buy of this performance is very similar in tempo to the one that Bernstein recorded with Krystian Zimerman 20 years later. Bernstein explained that the 'controversial' Gould performance is not the one that was commercially released. After Gould's experiment, he reverted to a more conventional tempo, which is what was heard on the recording.
Bernstein is interesting in his describing how he approached communicating and explaining music to young people and bringing it alive. He explained who he encouraged children to listen to Richard Strauss' Don Quixote as the music score to a Superman movie, which they found very entertaining before saying that ultimately the music is neither Don Quixote or Superman but organised musical sounds.
There were one or two comments that I thought to be hyperbole. Did Karajan really ask Bernstein to replace him as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic? Did Salvador Dali really come out of coma asking to see Bernstein? I still can't quite believe them.
Ultimately, this is a fan book though. The questions are a little gushing and there is little critical reflection. I don't have a problem with this on the whole because I do appreciate the subject matter myself and would love to have been invited to such a dinner.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This is one of the most enjoyable interviews I have ever read and it seemed to fly past and be over very quickly. Of course Leonard Bernstein was one of the truly great figures of the 20th Century - he played with and met everybody. From the Beatles to Stravinsky, Tom Wolfe to JFK and he influenced every type of music. There can't be many people who don't know "West Side Story" and its tunes in some form or other.
However what comes across most in reading this interview, is what an entertaining and amusing personality he was and how enjoyable it must have been to be invited to dinner with him. The conversation ranges widely across many subjects, but often returns to the idea of constantly learning and doing this in a spirit of "playfulness". Even in his 70s, Lenny is constantly playful - teasing and joking, enthusiastic about music, philosophy, psychology - whatever you can think of!
Credit goes to Jonathan Cott for not getting in the way and letting us experience the huge honour of dining with Lenny and getting to know him. In fact when it starts to get personal and Lenny decides to psycho-analyse his interviewer - he edits this part out and moves on. Maybe he is embarassed, but I think it makes for a better book - we just concentrate on this "icon" of music-making.
From what I have said so far, you may get the impression that there is a huge ego at work here and it's all too big-headed - but this is not what it's about, at all. Lenny talks lovingly about all the people he has worked with and the great composers who he has conducted - he says that his biggest influence and inspiration has always come from his students and teaching keeps him young.
At the beginning of the interview, Lenny teases the author that he doesn't want any of those lame interview question like : who's your favourite composer? However, in the course of the conversation, all of these things do come up quite naturally. So we are left in no doubt that Mahler is his favourite and he had stickers made proclaiming "Mahler Grooves". The book has a selection of very nice Black & White photos in the middle which illustrate points that come up in the interview and we see Lenny's score of Mahler's 6th Symphony adorned with this bumper sticker.
We also get interesting anecdotes about working with Glen Gould and a host of other great musicians, as well as discussions about conducting and the meaning of music. Lenny's musical tastes cover just about everything - Indian Ragas, Jazz in all its forms, The Beatles, Minimalism, Catalan sardanas, Greek Folk, to a hilarious encounter with electronic music and the Synclavier he was given. He discusses whether tonality is essential to music in the wake of serialism and returns many times to his favourite Mahler and his own idiosyncratic take on Brahms.
So of course this book is of great value to anybody who has any interest in the music of the 20th Century - but it's also the story of a great approach to life and how to get the most out of what you do. Overall, an incredibly uplifting book that gives you a real sense of being in the presence of a wonderful human being.