on 29 January 2014
As a conductor his extravagant antics on the podium were frequently pilloried and his interpretations often criticised. His serious concert works were, and still are, held by some critics to be inferior to his scores for several Broadway shows. His whole persona was imbued with an uneasy streak of 'showbiz' glamour and one biographer, at least, did him no favours at all. Yet it is surely permissible to argue that Leonard Bernstein, who became the first American-born director of the prestigious New York Philharmonic Orchestra, was a genius, even if a flawed one. Consider his accomplishments : composer in a wide variety of genres, conductor, pianist, lecturer, TV presenter extraordinary, author, public figure - he was arguably the most gifted all-round artist of the 20th century. This volume of his letters and of letters written to him offers a fascinating insight into a complex personality - and one which, crucially, was founded on a contradictory sexual orientation. Thus he was a family man, wedded lovingly, it seems, to his wife, the Chilean-born actress Felicia Montealegre, and father of three children, but also a flamboyant homosexual whose desires nearly ruined that marriage. His close relationship with other men, including the acknowledged Dean of American composers, Aaron Copland, constituted a continuing element in his life until his death in 1990 at the age of 72. But it is his role as a musician that matters : whether championing the works of his American (and indeed European) contemporaries, getting to the heart of Mahler, composing the brilliant score of surely the greatest ever musical, West Side Story, or introducing thousands of children to the delights of classical music. Some of the material in the book is too chatty and gossipy for its own good and the editor, Nigel Simeone, could have been even more explanatory with his footnotes. But so much is revelatory, showing what was achieved by a supreme artist who seemed to cram several, often breathless, lives into one. Certainly, the world of music may well never see his like again.
on 10 January 2014
Some of the reviews are rather negative but I thought the book a marvellous journey through Bernstein's life.
The only criticism for me,there are not enough letters describing his thoughts on performers,as an example Callas in Medea at La Scala,The person that comes out of it the best is Aaron Copland.Surely the most generous of men to his colleagues and rivals.