Taking Lessons from Leonard Bernstein

Bernstein conducting the New York City Symphony in 1945 (Wiki Commons)

Bernstein conducting the New York City Symphony in 1945 (Wiki Commons)

Revealing the secret behind a magic trick is usually not a good thing, but when it comes to real artistry, uncovering the nitty-gritty details of creation can often deepen our appreciation of an artist’s genius. In the case of Leonard Bernstein, a few recent and forthcoming releases help pull back the curtain on the composer and conductor’s creative methods.

The first of these, and the subject of a recent New York Times article by Allan Kozinn, is the release on DVD of seven appearances by Bernstein on the “Omnibus” TV series that ran from 1952 to 1961. The program “made the details of music and music making accessible, usually without dumbing down, to a broad audience,” Kozinn writes.

If there is a weakness to these programs, Kozinn notes, it might be Bernstein himself:

Fortunately, for the more specialized audience who might be interested in investigating Bernstein’s technique without having to listen to Bernstein explain it to them, the New York Philharmonic will soon be making Bernstein’s marked conducting scores available online. The undertaking is the result of a $2.4 million grant from the Leon Levy Foundation, and will eventually include 1.3 million pages from the Philharmonic’s archives. Bernstein’s scores are the first step in this ambitious project, and are supposed to become available some time this spring.

Watch Bernstein discuss early versions of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on “Omnibus”: