Wake up and smell the whiskymain
The New York Philharmonic has put some of its archives online, including the score that Leonard Bernstein marked up for Mahler’s ninth symphony.
A Question of Interpretation
i. Lenny’s Scotch
One Sunday afternoon in 1985 at London’s
Barbican Hall, after Leonard Bernstein had signed his name on record covers for
an hour with a tea-glass full of whisky at his elbow, twice replenished, he
dismissed his minders to sit with me and two friends over the score of Mahler’s
Ninth that he had just performed. One of my friends was preparing to conduct
the symphony for the first time.
We stood around his table, a cigarette
curling in an ashtray. Lenny opened the score at the entry-point of harp, horn
and cellos. From this tremulous passage, and on almost every page thereafter,
the music was peppered with the conductor’s coloured pencil marks. He was not,
on the whole, one of those maestros who plot performances like military
campaigns. Other Mahler scores he had shown us were clean of marks, yet here he
could not leave the music alone. On the final page he wrote, ‘have the courage
to remain in 8!’ as if a conductor, drained, might lose traction at the
fadeout. ‘Why so many marks?’ we asked. Lenny drew deep on another
cigarette. ‘Mahler,’ he exhaled
expansively, ‘was a great conductor who premiered most of his own works and
showed us how he wanted them to sound. This one he didn’t live to conduct. This
one he wrote for me.’….