Leonard Bernstein - the hoarse whisperer

There are currently lots of exciting things happening on the English contemporary music scene, although you wouldn't think so from the lugubrious article in today's New York Times. It just goes to show that, despite George W Bush and Tony Blairs 'special relationship', there is still a yawning gap between England and America. It is all summed up in this priceless anectdote from John Drummond's very English autobiography:

I met Bernstein occasionally over the years, especially after I became friendly with the management of the New York Philharmonic. I would go to their concerts in New York, and several times my visits coincided with Bernstein's appearances. One evening he conducted a whole programme of music by living composers, all of whom were present: Roger Sessions, Ned Rorem and William Schuman. Halfway through Rorem's piece - a song cycle - Bernstein started coughing and left the platform. We sat in embarrrassed silence while his hacking could be heard off-stage. Afterwards I went round to see him and found a huge group in the Green Room, most of whom were in tears of emotional commiseration. Bernstein wept his way slowly through the crowd, kissing, sobbing and acknowledging the cries of 'You're the greatest', led by the unlikely pairing of Billy Rose, the band leader, and Isaac Stern. It was America at its most flesh-crawling.

Now read about my own encounter with a naked Lennie.
John Drummond's Tainted by Experience is published by Faber, ISBN 0571200540. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Hucbald said…
Truly another virtuoso post, Pliable.

I don't think I thanked you for the hat tip on the 2005 post, so consider this belated acknowledgment.

As with countless musical geniuses (It really is a tiresome cliche) Bernstein was a very contradictory man. But nobody who has a hint of sanity and reasoning ability could deny his greatness.

To the main point, "Songs of Freedom" is a cultural monument of sorts, I think, but it was undercut by the sentiment it expressed and its premature success.

I had never seen the original album art. Thanks.


Henry Holland said…
It was America at its most flesh-crawling

Hahahaha, I think I'd like Mr. Drummond.

I saw Lennie at this second to last public appearance, at Tanglewood. It was a rehearsal, the Four Sea Interludes and the Beethoven 7th. It took him almost 5 minutes to reach the podium, he was in that bad of shape. The BSO played large chunks of both pieces straight through; the conducting of the Beethoven was ghastly, as if the period instrument movement had never happened and the Britten wasn't much better.

A few days later he died and one of the pictures I saw on TV that night showed him with a death stick hanging out of his mouth, Bernstein puffing away. Yikes.

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