Bernstein ~ West Side Story: Mambo (1960)

The Young People’s Concerts featuring Leonard Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic – Sunday afternoons on CBS – helped turn me on to classical music.

Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein

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.

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