The Young People’s Concerts featuring Leonard Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic – Sunday afternoons on CBS – helped turn me on to classical music.
Because of those Sunday afternoon programs with “Lennie and the boys” (they were all boys in those days) the first 33 1/3rd classical LP (you remember those?) my parents ever bought was Bernstein and the NY Phil performing Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.
Bernstein was multi-talented and wrote pieces for performers, ensembles, and venues of all kinds — art song and orchestra, Broadway and concert hall, settings of Hebrew psalms and the Roman Catholic mass (a piece for huge forces including a rock band). Oh, and he did all this while serving as music director for one of the world’s great orchestras. The oft-heard criticism was that he was internally conflicted, that he spread himself too thin, and that he badly neglected his health. But without question, his music has touched a lot of people, including me.
Bernstein assembled a suite of dances from his 1960 score to West Side Story. In this video, we see Gustavo Dudamel with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela — the group he conducted before his rise to the helm of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. This is not your average symphonic performance — watch how the players and the audience let it all hang out. I think Bernstein would have been pleased. And man does Gustavo have a head of hair …
Since mid-2017 Dudamel has begun speaking out about the tragic turn of events in his home country.
Personal note: In 2005 as a member of the Minnesota Chorale we joined with other singers and members of the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in a benefit concert for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. We closed the concert with a selection from Bernstein’s operetta Candide — the glorious final chorus “Make Our Garden Grow“. There was hardly a dry eye in the house.