Watch what happened when Bernstein lost his baton

Watch what happened when Bernstein lost his baton


norman lebrecht

August 27, 2018

At 6:28 in the finale of Sibelius’s second symphony, the conductor got so carried away that his stick took flight and he was left waving both hands.

Not for long, however.



  • Alex says:

    He grew a new one!

  • The Voice from America says:

    LB’s conducting was more elegant in those days …

    • Petros Linardos says:

      and his interpretations were less slow and less mannered. Not necessarily better, but more conventional.

      The baton moment was great. Particularly amusing to see how nobody lost their cool.

      • BillG says:

        Conductor keeping their cool. Many years ago, never mind how many exactly, there was a high school orchestra contest which for some reason a portable stand was used for the conductors. One was conducting a piece, can’t recall the name” when the right side of the supports folded in. Dropped the platform about 9 inches on that side. Conductor kept going didn’t miss a beat.

  • Rustier spoon says:

    Look at the average age of the orchestra there….albeit in an era when people looked older than they do these days, but still. If only older players were given the time of day now that they were then…in the UK at least we might find a more “mature” sounding band. Sad but true.

  • Mark Henriksen says:

    He never phoned it in. Exciting performance!

  • Bruce says:

    I’ve been in the orchestra when this happened. It’s not a big deal. Professional secret: we watch the conductor’s hands, not the stick. As far as I can tell, the baton is there to give him something to hold onto, not to give us something to look at.

    • John Kelly says:

      Another professional secret – sometimes we don’t watch the conductor at all………

      • Sue says:

        Carlos Kleiber sometimes complained that nobody in the orchestra watched him. The women in the audience more than made up for that!!!

      • Bruce says:

        Haha… yes, some passages with some conductors (and some conductors, period) are definite LUFU material!

        Honestly though, I’ve never had a conductor where I could follow their beat if I looked directly at them. It’s like an impressionist painting: look too closely and it’s nothing but dots and smudges. Peripheral vision works well for me. I tell colleagues that I don’t look directly at the conductor and they don’t believe me because I stay with them pretty well; but then they’ll mention so-and-so’s facial expressions during some concert and I have no idea what they’re talking about.

    • professor says:

      .. and then you get a conductor who knows how to really conduct with the baton, and everything feels different — right?

  • David Katz says:

    This, dear people, appears to be a New York Philharmonic Young Person’s Concert—look at the wrapped attention on the faces of the kids in the audience (you need to watch from the beginning). No fidgeting, no talking, but also no “dumbing down”, no “just excerpts”, no visuals to distract attention from the sound, or from the excitement and emotional power of this magnificent score. Here is the whole finale, prepared ahead of time for the young audience, no doubt, in Bernstein’s inimical way.

    Who cares if he loses a baton? (The extra is on his stand.) The orchestra responds to much more than his gesture anyway—to his entire being—but that is a discussion for another day.

    And the performance? Sure, Lenny luxuriates in some places more perhaps than he should, and later in his career he achieved more with less in terms of gesture, but again, who cares? This is music for music’s sake—performed with passion and fire: a conductor believing in (and getting the orchestra and audience to believe in) the innate, deeply human, dare I say “universal” value of the art.

    Despite everything we could say good and bad about the man and his music (and his music-making), Happy Birthday, Lenny! We still miss you.

    • David Katz says:

      I of course meant “rapt” attention in the first paragraph of my earlier post. Apologies.


    • Petros Linardos says:

      Yes! That’s the kind of entry level concerts we need. Celebrate the music, not any other nonsense.

      Is there any way of knowing how much of a difference those series made? Is there a provable Bernstein effect in that generation?

      • David Katz says:

        An interesting subject for scholarship. Certainly most any current professional musician of a certain age, living within earshot of those concerts, either in the hall or via broadcast, and maybe many music-lovers in our audiences, were in some way influenced by them and him. That’s some legacy.

    • Adam Stern says:


      Amen. The watering-down of children’s concerts by orchestras whose education depts. have caved to misguided thinking (e.g., “Children have shorter attention spans nowadays, so we can’t play anything that isn’t fast, loud, and short”) is appalling. Mozart and Beethoven (and Sibelius!) have no less to say to contemporary ears, minds and hearts than they ever did.

      No doubt that Lenny’s ego was a robust one, but I don’t think this self-assessment is in any way overstated or misplaced:

      “When you know that you’re reaching children without compromise or the assistance of acrobats, marching bands, slides, and movies, but that you are getting them with hard talk, a piano, and an orchestra, it gives you a gratification that is enormous.”

    • Sue says:

      Absolutely brilliant comments and I couldn’t agree more. You still see those kinds of children at concerts in Vienna; they just don’t need to be patronized with gimmicks and they’ve been disciplined to sit still and pay attention. Wonderful.

    • Jack says:

      “wrapped” or rapt?

      • David Katz says:

        “Rapt” is right, as I wrote in the correction beneath my original post. Thanks for the nudge, though.


  • Bruce says:

    6:52 — why do trumpet players always decide that it sounds better to play this passage sharp rather than in tune?

    • mr oakmountain says:

      It’s a common problem on most C-Trumpets: If you play a loud a” on the 3rd valve, it’ll be slightly flat, if you take the alternative (correct) fingering with the 1st and 2nd valve, it’ll end up sharp. At Uni they tell you, if in doubt, be sharp rather than flat.
      The effect is worsened by the fact that some trumpeters will, when playing in D major (such as this piece), put the whole trumpet slightly sharp to compensate for the usually flat d” and e”.
      The British solution: Play this on the Bb trumpet: A lot less safe, but if you know what you are doing, more in pitch.
      I hope this answers your question. This passage is very exposed and hard to play anyway. Please forgive us 🙂

      • Bruce says:

        Thanks. It’s good to know there’s a reason for it 🙂

        I have heard it played in tune before (notably the Ashkenazy/ Boston recording — early 90’s, so probably Schleuter?), so I wondered why everyone doesn’t do it.

        Yeah, we’ve all heard that “better sharp than out of tune” advice. Nobody seems to say “better in tune than sharp.” :/

        • mr oakmountain says:

          There’s an even worse passage: The “heaven’s gate opens” moment towards the end of Mahler 4 with the three trumpets going to a sustained E-Major chord in the high range after having sat through the most of the movement silently.
          If you play it on the “large” Bb Trumpet, it’ll be in tune (LSO), but at the risk of the 1st and 2nd trumpet hitting either the note below or above with the same fingering. On the C Trumpet, the b (1st trumpet) is still easy to miss, the g# (2nd) easily results in a split and the e (3rd) is flat.
          Funnily enough, if you played it on period low F-Trumpets it would be like playing a baroque natural trumpet: Hit the second valve and lip the rest.
          Two recordings that are perfectly in tune are LAPO Salonen and LSO Faberman.

          I wonder if other instruments or registers also have famous passages in the symphonic repertoire that are virtually rigged against the players …

  • tim says:

    Yes, I get it, he was a great musician and colorful personality, can we please move on, please?

  • Thomasina says:

    On YouTube we can see the moment when Daniele Gatti loses his baton at Tchaikovsky 6. After the first movement he smiles and shrugs. I loved Gatti with ONF…

  • Ben says:

    Why the 1st stand was so far away from Bernstein? Either the act was staged, and/or the musicians know more about Bernstein’s baton grasp than the rest of us.

  • Brian Hughes says:

    Nice to see this happening to Lenny. As a conductor myself, I always carry a spare!

  • Conducting Feminista says:

    All women conductors have already surpassed and exceeded the vaunted Lenny. These women will bring greatness to classical music never before seen.

  • BillG says:

    It would be interesting if someone could do a split screen with this concert and the one the NYP did in Pyongyang a few years ago. Just the audience shots.