The Overgrown Path leads to the symphonies of Leonard Bernstein. There have been very perceptive posts from Hucbald (check his excellent blog A monk's musical musings) and Fairhaven Friend (who contributed my guest blog A year at the symphony) on my recent Mass post. These prompted me to listen last night to Bernstein’s Kaddish Symphony (No 3) in his own performance with the New York Philharmonic and soprano Jennie Tourel.
It strikes me that Bernstein’s symphonies contain the same blazing creativity that crackles through Mass, without the excesses and indulgences that flaw it. Why aren’t these works better known? Or am I wrong? Are these simply chic symphonies?
Whatever we think of his Mass and symphonies, there is no doubt that Bernstein was a larger than life figure. When I was at EMI/Angel in the ‘70s he was one of our artists. He was contracted with us to record with the French National Orchestra. I clearly recall a Milhaud album with La création du monde and the wonderful jazz inspired Le boeuf sur la toit, and was there also a Berlioz Harold in Italy?
Lenny (right) came to London's Royal Festival Hall on tour with the Vienna Philharmonic. At the time he was having a mutual, and passionate , affair with the orchestra. He conducted a typically over-the-top Eroica which included all sorts of gymnastics on the podium. Immediately after the applause died down my wife and I ducked round backstage to congratulate him on cloning Martha Graham with Beethoven. In the Green Room the maestro was stark naked apart from a skimpy shot-silk bath robe. As we both went to congratulate him he started to play with the chord fastening the robe. I’m still trying to work out who that performance was for.
* My photo actually shows Bernstein with sister Shirley in the Green Room at Carnegie Hall after a performance with the Israel Philarmonic, March 1951. The image credit is an interesting article Leonard Bernstein Talks About the Theremin, the Ondes Martenot and the Tape Recorder, which also allows me to add another Overgrown Path my own theremin article Neil Armstrong finally reveals his moon music.
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* This article was originally published on August 2, 2005, and is reblogged here as part of On An Overgrown Path's second anniversary celebrations of Music beyond borders. Follow this link to read the comments posted to the original article.