Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), a prodigious tour-de-force of a musician, is definitely one of the greatest, if not the greatest, musical genius to come out of America during the twentieth century. Composer, conductor, pianist, music educator, author and humanitarian, he has left an indelible mark in world music, and continues to be the subject of animated debates even unto this day. Indeed, he was the first American conductor to receive international acclaim, and his career is bedecked with several honours and awards.
As a composer, Bernstein wrote many genres, including symphonic and orchestral music, ballet, film and theatre music, choral works, opera, chamber music and piano pieces. Still, he will always be remembered for the Broadway musical, West Side Story, which still commands regular performances worldwide.
Listen — Bernstein: Prologue (West Side Story)
(4865466 track 11, 0:16-0:42) ℗ 2023 Deutsche Grammophon GmbH :
Bernstein was the first American-born conductor to lead a major American symphony orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and also led most of the world's major orchestras, generating a significant legacy of audio and video recordings. Bernstein was also a critical figure in the modern revival of the music of Gustav Mahler, in whose music he was most passionately interested.
A lifelong humanitarian, Bernstein worked in support of civil rights, protested against the Vietnam War, advocated nuclear disarmament, raised money for HIV/AIDS research and awareness, and engaged in multiple international initiatives for human rights and world peace. Bernstein's musical career was constantly aimed at making people happy with his music-making, and his vast recorded repertoire can vouch for that. Indeed, this quote sums it all up:
I do not want to spend the rest of my life doing as Toscanini did, studying and restudying fifty pieces of music. It would bore me to death. I want to conduct, play the piano and compose.
Now, what about 'Maestro'? Starring Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein, this is a film, which is also directed by Cooper, about the life of the legendary maestro, with specific focus on his marriage to his wife, the Chilean-American actress Felicia Montealegre.
Listen — Meeting of Felicia and Lenny
(4865466 track 3, 1:02-1:42) ℗ 2023 Deutsche Grammophon GmbH :
The film follows the relationship between the two, from when the couple met at a party in 1946 up until Felicia's death following a struggle with lung cancer in 1978.
Over the past few years, Cooper has worked closely with Bernstein's three children - Jamie, Nina and Alexander - to bring their father back to life on the big screen. In Jamie's words:
We are very touched actually, that it is not a biopic, strictly speaking; it does not tell the story of our father from birth to death. It is not that kind of film at all. It is a portrait of our parents' marriage, so it is something very specific and very personal for us. Indeed, we are also very excited about actress Carey Mulligan, who plays our mother.
As expected, much of Bernstein's music features in the film: excerpts from West Side Story, Symphonies 2 and 3, Mass, Trouble in Tahiti, Fancy Free and Candide, among others.
Listen — Bernstein: Overture (Candide)
(4865466 track 20, 1:13-2:02) ℗ 2023 Deutsche Grammophon GmbH :
There are also music snippets by Beethoven, Mahler and Walton.
Listen — Mahler: Finale (Symphony No 2, Resurrection)
(4865466 track 14, 3:23-4:22) ℗ 2023 Deutsche Grammophon GmbH :
This issue features the complete soundtrack to Maestro with the London Symphony Orchestra playing out of their skins under the enthralling and vibrant direction of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who also worked closely with actor-director Bradley Cooper as conducting consultant before and throughout the film-making process.
For the legion of Bernstein admirers, my advice is, get both the film and album. For others, just purchasing the CD will be enough. An extraordinary tribute to, maybe, the greatest musical figure of the twentieth century, in brilliant sound and attractive presentation.
Copyright © 14 November 2023