Massachussetts is renamed Bernstein

Massachussetts is renamed Bernstein


norman lebrecht

August 23, 2018

Governor Charles D. Baker has issued a Proclamation declaring August 25th Leonard Bernstein Day throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Tanglewood will relay a live Candide at 3pm UK time tomorrow.

Surely it will all be over soon.

Hang on, Louisville has just announced a 2-year Lenny fest.

Enough, already.


  • Michael says:

    Agreed. As much as I enjoy his music, this has all been too much.

  • buxtehude says:

    Enough is too much!

    Sometime in the night a local radio station here was to broadcast “American in Paris” as part of the B’stein cent. Why don’t the heirs rename Gershwin Bernstein? Now There would be a stiffener in his reputation (Bernstein’s that is).

  • boringfileclerk says:

    Lenny is the most overrated composer in quite some time. Good thing he isn’t around to account for his contributions in the whole #MeToo movement…

    But granted, he probably did more than anyone else to promote classical music. Just wish I liked more of his output.

  • william osborne says:

    I haven’t really followed all of the Bernstein festivities, but I am happy for them. Given the general neglect of the fine arts (for lack of a better term) in the USA, the Bernstein celebrations are a welcomed change.

    I especially appreciate not only how he confidently stood apart from some of the limiting aesthetic paradigms of the time, but went beyond that to write some works that genuinely helped express, if not define, what America is. It is extremely rare when artists reach that level, and it is indeed something to be celebrated. Ives and Copland are the only other American composers who accomplished that — though Samuel Barber came close.

    Especially important is West Side Story. The ability to write truly profound music theater is one of the rarest of all human abilities. The repertoire shows that such works appear only a few times a century.

    • Larry says:

      Well said. I consider West Side Story to be the greatest American opera.

    • buxtehude says:

      I think you are conflating his civic program, which from your earlier posts is especially important to you, with his ability as a composer, this last being not of the first rank. He, Copeland and Barber are not in the same league as Ives and Gershwin, two that stand alone. Porgy and Bess occupies the summit in America and is among the planet’s very greatest operas.

      • AMetFan says:

        Not that all of them have not written major works, but you’re really putting Barber in the same category as Copeland and Bernstein? They couldn’t polish Samuel Barber’s shoes!

      • william osborne says:

        Bernstein was a very good composer. His technical skills were remarkable, but I do not conflate that with his civic actions. In fact, he was rather uncivil in areas I am deeply concerned with. His TV show was excellent, a paradigm for what TV and music education could be. And his reintroduction of Mahler to Vienna is historically significant and a profound gift to Austria. It is truly remarkable that Mahler was all but forgotten there, and how now he is a fundamental and inseparable part of Austria’s musical identity. As far as civic actions go in the arts, this is certainly one of the greater successes in history. And it is directly related to Bernstein’s musical gifts.

        • AZ Cowboy says:

          Nonsense. Bernstein didn’t re-introduce Vienna to Mahler by himself. Just go to the Vienna Philharmonic archives, or even the Konzerthaus archives, do a quick search and lo and behold, Mahler was hardly absent from Viennese programs. In fact, his music was performed quite frequently – at least up until the Nazis took over. Walter, Moralt, Kubelik, Mitropoulos, Karajan, Klemperer, Solti, Abbado led performances of Mahler works, and that’s just from 1950 to 1965 or so. And, it’s only the Vienna Philharmonic. Other Viennese orchestras also gave Mahler. This myth that Bernstein somehow salvaged Mahler from the dustbin has got to stop! There were plenty of conductors doing a lot of Mahler before Bernstein. He may have made it sexy and cool, but he was standing on the shoulders of giants, especially his NYPO colleagues Walter, Rodzinski, and Mitropoulos. As to whether Bernstein was the greatest of Mahler interpreters, that’s another topic.

          • william osborne says:

            Your post, already odd due to its vehemence, is misleading. There were, of course, other conductors who performed Mahler after the war — as if that were news — but he remained in the margins of the repertoire. It was Bernstein who led to Mahler being mainstreamed. And it was Bernstein’s efforts that led the Austrian music world to realize how deeply Mahler represented their culture and society and what an important legacy for them he represented.

            This article in the NYT by David Schiff presents this differentiated view. He notes Bernstein’s overstatements concerning Mahler, and lists the conductors who earlier performed him, but notes that it was clearly Bernstein who put Mahler back in the center of the repertoire.


            To deny this, and to claim that Mahler had not been marginalized, and to overlook Bernstein’s overwhelmingly major role in his revival, amounts even if unintentionally, to a denial of a history of anti-Semitism, especially during the Nazi era that we should not forget.

            This history is also important to me on a personal level. My wife was in the Munich Philharmonic for 13 years. The Munich Phil premiered Mahler’s 8th, but while my wife was in the orchestra, the GMD Sergiu Celibidache, refused to ever conduct a Mahler Symphony. His views and reasons were not uncommon in that part of Europe. The rejection of such an important musical legacy for the orchestra was astounding to witness.

          • AZ Cowboy says:

            Mr. Osborne – I can’t Reply to your reply below…

            There is nothing you just wrote that I disagree with. What struck me was the comment in your original post about Bernstein and “his reintroduction of Mahler to Vienna”. Who was the first conductor to play Mahler in Vienna after the war? There’s a plaque on the Konzerthaus extolling Bernstein’s Mahler performances there, but surely someone else did some Mahler before Lenny arrived. That’s all I was saying. Vehemence? Don’t be so sensitive. I save vehemence for political discussion.

          • william osborne says:

            Yes, the term “reintroduced” is a bit vague. Perhaps “reestablished Mahler as part of the mainstream repertoire would have been clearer.”

  • Ricardo says:

    What’s with all the “let’s put Bernstein down” attitude? He was controversial, he was complicated, but he was a musician of genius and deserves to be remembered and celebrated (certainly in his country) in the year of his centenary. He only touched greatness in some of his music but, although one can almost always trace it to its influences, he wrote some wonderful and moving stuff. No point comparing it with some more obviously original and profound composers. There is a need for the music he wrote also.
    I am often confounded by the way people judge art. I feel those who berate composers and performers do so in order to give the impression that they hold the sole key to the truth. Folks, if you can’t be satisfied with ANY composer or performer, become one yourself.

    • buxtehude says:

      Not so, not so at all! I’m expressing my opinion, prompted especially by what I experience as a numbing torrent of tosh. My special purpose, which I hope is obvious, is to promote what I love.

      It’s from other people’s critiques that I have managed to stumble on the good and the better, I have no coach or professor holding my hand in matters of music appreciation.

      Please park your own personal sense of superiority — in this case, toward me, somewhere else.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    I’m not sick of it yet. Like any composer there’s some good and the not so good. WSS is a masterpiece. Songfest and Chichester Psalms are terrific. I’ve been re-reading Humphrey Burton’s biography – the list of people Bernstein had encounters with is spectacular: Toscanini, Rodzinski, Mitropoulos, Walter, Alma Mahler, Koussevitsky, Reiner, Charlie Chaplin, Szell, Solti…and on and on.
    In addition, I’ve read to new books that anyone interested in Bernstein must check out: On the Road and Off the Record by Charlie Harmon, and Famous Father GIrl by Jamie Bernstein. Read the accounts of his amorous, and mostly gay, encounters and then try to watch Omnibus or Young Peoples Concerts, or his Mahler DVDs. You’ll never think of him the same way again.

  • William E Ford says:

    The best part of the centennial celebration is that when it is over, we can go back to ignoring most of his music

  • Alex Davies says:

    Not sure why there’s so much hostility directed towards Bernstein on this blog. I think Bernstein’s great, but if you don’t like him you can always just try to ignore all the fuss. It’s as if some people don’t even want other people to be able to enjoy the centenary. Coming up in four years we have the centenary of the birth of Xenakis. He’s one of few composers I pretty much detest, but I’m not going to be complaining when other people are marking the event. It may be of no interest to me, but I appreciate that it will be of interest to some people.

    • buxtehude says:

      I don’t see the amount of hostility that you’re experiencing, maybe if I was a fan the dissents to Lennyism would stick out more. The last thing on my mind is wanting to interfere with your enjoyment of him, or with anyone else’s. I wouldn’t be weighing in if it was for this tsunami of hype, which properly provokes a response.

      Make room for Martinu! is my latest slogan, and for so many other really great composers hardly ever heard around here.

      But you’re the second in this thread to charge malign intent. It reminds me of the inevitable outrage — and I mean inevitable! — on youtube threads at the handful of thumbs-downs, against thousands headed the other way, on just about every great popular favorite. It seems like something in the human psyche defaults to experiencing these as personal affronts, when an intense musical Like is at issue.

      Just saying…

      • Alex Davies says:

        I wasn’t really meaning the people commenting, but Norman’s constant negativity about anything Bernstein related. That and his ridiculous exaggerations, like, ‘MASSACHUSSETTS (sic) IS RENAMED BERNSTEIN’. Quite obviously the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is not being renamed Bernstein. A more appropriate headline would have been, ‘Massachusetts names Leonard Bernstein Day’, or, ‘Bernstein Day to be celebrated in Massachusetts’. It’s as if Norman decided to be a curmudgeon about the Bernstein centenary and has gone out of his way to pour cold water on the whole thing as often as he can.

        • boringfileclerk says:

          Sorry, but NL is quite right to be dismissive of Bernstein. At least with his compositional output. It is a crime that he should overshadow the Debussy celebrations this year. Debussy, was far and away the better composer, and arguably, had a much wider influence. Bernstein was a very accomplished musical theater composer, but that’s about it. Bernstein wanted to be a pop star, and not a composer of serious works.

          • Adam Stern says:

            I respectfully disagree with the concluding statement. Bernstein was known to frequently lament what he feared would be his musical legacy. Yaacov Mishori, longtime principal horn of the Israel Philharmonic, recalled Bernstein making the following remarks a year before his (Bernstein’s) death:

            “I don’t feel happy that people will remember me because of ‘West Side Story’, even though I love the piece. I would rather people remembered me for my serious compositions.”

            Sounds to me like he really cared about the fates of his symphonies, ballet scores, etc.

          • Adam Stern says:

            Another Lenny quote:

            “It would be nice to hear someone accidentally whistle something of mine, somewhere, just once.”

  • Musicmanny says:

    Did you know 2018 was also the year of Debussy’s centenary? I wish he got half the attention Bernstein did.

  • Jean says:

    Thinking about 20th century American symphonists, he is not even in my Top 10 list.

  • Bruce says:

    Big fan of his conducting, not so much of his music. I was intrigued to read Anthony Tommasini’s NY Times article where he said Bernstein was actually not the best interpreter of his own work (and points to Alsop, Tilson Thomas, and one or two others). Maybe my problem is that I’ve been listening, or trying to listen, to Bernstein’s own recordings.

    • Adam Stern says:

      I’ve not read Mr. Tommasini’s piece, but I’ve always personally felt that the earlier Bernstein-conducts-Bernstein recordings — those with the New York Philharmonic — were superior to the remakes with Israel. When Bernstein wrote the symphonies, the Violin Serenade, the “On the Waterfront” score, etc., he was still in that pumped-up, energized, conquer-the-world phase of his life, and performed his own music much more “electrically” as a result; the fit between conductor and composer was better. The later recordings were made when that sometimes-effective, sometimes-not gravitas has overtaken him; it served some composers and pieces well (I personally love some of the Sibelius and Mahler performances from his later years), but imposed on his own music a ponderousness and heaviness that didn’t match the spirit in which it was created.

      The piece that turned me on to Bernstein the composer? “Prelude, Fugue and Riffs”, that kickbutt little gem for jazz band, in the classic recording Bernstein conducted with Benny Goodman as soloist. I’m still just as thrilled by it nearly fifty years later, as much for the piece as the performance.