Leonard Bernstein hated Sinopoli, adored Jeffrey Tate

Leonard Bernstein hated Sinopoli, adored Jeffrey Tate


norman lebrecht

December 14, 2019

The Library of Congress has been taking testimony from Bernstein’s associate Charlie Harmon, including his opinions on other conductors.

Here’s what he made of Giuseppe Sinopoli’s Mahler Resurrection. Watch.




  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    Bernstein himself was an idiosyncratic conductor in his last years. I remember an excellent Mahler 9 recording with Concertgebouw , some Copland & his own Candide. Otherwise most other things were inferior to his earlier performances. He was not even a very old man, but seemed rather worn out by excess.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Read Humphrey Burton’s excellent bio of Bernstein; the whole thing is wonderfully interesting but Bernstein was definitely not a nice man.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        “Bernstein was definitely not a nice man”

        Most people are more complicated than that, and Bernstein was too. At times he could be nice, and his orchestras mostly liked him. But certain aspects of his private life were less nice.

        • John Borstlap says:

          I met him once in the eighties in Amsterdam after a rehearsel of Schubert VIII with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and he was a most amiable, humble little man, and hungry for attention, also – apparently – from people he did not know. I was there with an agent, and the first thing he asked was; ‘Did you hear my Mahler IX?’ Which had just come out. But we had not, as yet. Immediately he sank into a pained sadness, as if personally offended. And he returned to his entourage of juvenile ephebes in the background. But the rehearsel was wonderfully expressive, with a musical refinement down to the smallest details. A great man, and in the same time a very vulnerable and fragile one.

  • Stew says:

    It goes both ways. Plenty of others thought Bernstein was butchering Mahler as well.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    More of Leonard Bernstein post his wife’s death.In that famous West Side Story recording footage, Bernstein not only appears worn out & intoxicated in the sessions (for which I have much sympathy as a fellow drinker, but at the same time as a non entity in comparison to his great talents), but also as rather cruel self indulgent personality. His treatment of miscast Jose Carreras just before his Leukemia & subsequent popular fame, is totally abhorrent.

    • Robert Roy says:

      Isn’t there a story that Bernstein told his lieutenants to ‘get the Spanish guy’ but they misinterpreted his instructions and got Carreras instead? Correct nationality- wrong singer! By the time the mistake was realised the contracts had been signed!

      I wish I could remember where I came across that story. Possibly, the UK’s ‘Radio Times?’ I’d be grateful if anyone could shine some light on this.

    • perturbo says:

      Re: Carreras
      Listen to the interview. Neil Rosenshein was Bernstein’s choice of tenor. Carreras had not been sent his music in advance, so the difficulty he had that Bernstein attacked him for is understandable. And OK, he was miscast (because of his accent, not his voice).

    • Alexander Tarak says:

      He was behaving like a jerk.

  • V says:

    But give Sinopoli some credit. He did look just like Mahler.

  • MusicBear88 says:

    Sinopoli’s Mahler cycle is with Philharmonia and while it’s not a top choice for me, it’s not so bad. But I honestly can’t imagine the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia understanding Mahler from almost any conductor. Verdi yes, Mahler no.

  • Sixtus says:

    The pre-cued-up portion of this interview is actually the least interesting segment of the nearly 2-hour program. I highly recommend watching it from the start for some fascinating insights into Bernstein’s work habits.

  • Lohengrinloh says:

    Berstein was just gelous as Sinopoli’s version is much more solid than his.

    • Chris Ponto says:

      I also thought that, the way Bernstein felt he owned Mahler’s music, there might be some professional jealousy on his part. LB seemed to assure that his publicity mentioned that not only was he a pioneer conducting the music in NYC, but that he “taught” the Vienna PO to play the music. That was patently ridiculous. In Peyser’s otherwise dodgy biography of LB, it was pointed out that Abbado (for example) gave as many performances in Vienna at the time as LB did. He identified with Mahler and I heard him conduct it now and then. He could be terribly effective with it–but I also believe that Sinopoli’s Mahler was certainly worth hearing. (I love his recording of the 5th.) That said, I have read anecdotes that, either with Berlin or Vienna, Sinopoli was said to have lost his place in the score during a rehearsal. I can’t know if that gossip is true.

      I read that Abbado and Muti, while never learning to like one another, agreed on one thing: they loathed Sinopoli. If Sinopoli could seem wayward and eccentric with Mahler, I think that those symphonies can withstand that treatment and may lend themselves to a bit of it. (I happen to like Sinopoli’s Bruckner very, very much–an opinion that’s somewhat unorthodox in that community.) I find Sinopoli’s Italian opera recordings somewhat tough to take, at times, but I appreciate the strength and focus he gave to the orchestration. He was never dull.

      I also believe that Bernstein’s affection for Tate could also have been driven, in part, by the fact that they recorded for different labels and didn’t really share a lot of repertoire.

      • Mathias Broucek says:

        His Bruckner is indeed superb…

      • Matt says:

        Did you find Sinopoli more idiosyncratic in Mahler than Maazel?

        • Chris Ponto says:

          I bought Maazel’s M4, because it was praised consistently, and listened to it once. I was quite underwhelmed. I had his M2 on LP simply for Jessye Norman, whom I’d heard twice, unforgettably, in that symphony. I don’t want to offend any of his fans, but I never was a Maazel admirer.

          But I did have respect for Sinopoli in much German repertoire.

  • Patrick says:

    Unimpressed with this Charlie Harmon. Makes Bernstein look small, petty.

    • Hilary says:

      That’s not what comes across in the memoirs I read, and which this interview relates to at times.
      Bernstein was very erudite in many areas besides music : literature and dance in particular. Harmon picked up on a blind spot: the visual arts. Here, Harmon -for once -was the teacher.

  • JohnH says:

    I know Bernstein is adored, particularly in his home country, as a Godsend gift to music and mankind, but quite honestly never found him too interesting as a composer (his works have little transcendence outside the US), conductor (his musical choices in Mozart, Beethoven, and Schumann are kitsch and un-stylistic) and artistic personality.

    He was US-American, the first US-born conductor with a name in the US, yes he was Jewish and the Vienna Phil had to do some name-cleaning after the atrocities Austrians and Germans committed in the 1940s but otherwise I don’t think he was much liked in Europe as a conductor.

    I think he is absolutely overrated. I quite honestly prefer the Mahler and Beethoven of Sinopoli to the affected versions of Bernstein.

    • FrauGeigerin says:

      I agree. I remember attending a concert of Bernstein with my parents in the 80s, when I was a child. Of course I didn’t know anything, but I was captivated by the man who waved the baton. Now, as a professional orchestral musician and hundreds of conductors later, when I see Bernstein’s videos I am also not impressed.

      I am fan of neither Bernstein nor Sinopoli’s Mahler… but it is true that when it comes to other repertoire Bernstein’s extravagant style created versions of Beethoven, Mozart, Bruckner that are, in my opinion, completely out of touch to what those composers wrote.

      And it is true that if you mention an American musician that you don’t like Bernstein they feel extremely offended.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I can assure you Bernstein was very well liked by Vienna’s public and the press, at least in the 80s, when I was a student there.

      I don’t know about the politics behind the Bernstein/VPO connection, but I’d be very surprised if Bernstein’s jewishness was such a factor during the pre-pc days, when the VPO was unapologetically all-male and probably all Austro-German. If I wanted to look for a calculated relationship, Bernstein’s power as a recording artist provides a easier explanation. Personally I believe their chemistry was real. The VPO concerts were (and are) led by conductors of international stature, but the musical results were some times unremarkable. Under Bernstein, however, they often played memorably.

      • doktorfaust says:

        As a native Austrian, son of a player of the Vienna Philharmonics, trained in a conservatoire with musicians of the Vienna Philharmonics (although never worked as a musician), member of the Society of Music Friends, with almost +30 years of Abo of the Philharmonics, and friend of many players of the orchestra, I can tell you that there were many factors weighting more than his music quality as a conductor in the relation of the Philharmonics with Bernstein. It was never a musician’s choice, but a political and economic choice that includes, as you mentioned, his label relations.

        PS: we were probably classmates in Wien at some point.

    • Olassus says:

      Sinopoli had no counterpoint.

      That Auferstehung, trapped in the row, must have been an 80-minute agony for Lenny.

      Thanks to Norman for the interesting clip.

      • Tamino says:

        What does ‘having no counterpoint mean’?
        You mean lack of sense for polyphonic or harmonic structure and foundation, focus on the top line/melody?

    • fflambeau says:

      What a nonsense post.

      “I don’t think he was much liked in Europe as a conductor.” Vienna is very much a part of Europe and he was beloved there by most of his musicians and most of the public (note: Mahler was disliked by some, too).
      He was also the conductor chosen by Europeans to present Beethoven’s 9th after the wall fell. But then, you seem to think Beethoven was “kitsch and un-stylistic”. You do know that that Beethoven piece is the EU national anthem?

      • Petros Linardos says:

        “[Bernstein] was also the conductor chosen by Europeans to present Beethoven’s 9th after the wall fell.”

        Do you have any link to background information on how this concert was arranged? I am very interested.

  • Anyone else see Sinopoli’s opera Lou Salome premiered at in Munich the Bayerische Staatsoper. I believe it was scheduled for 3 performances, but only had 2.

  • Novagerio says:

    The 7th he did pretty well…

  • Novagerio says:

    Anyway, here it is. Judge for yourselves.


    • egj says:

      That is Rai Torino orchestra,not Santa Cecilia.

    • John Borstlap says:

      No wonder Bernstein did not like Sinopoli’s approach: there is no fat in it. It is an intense, neurotic rendering, crisp, clear, direct. No romantic pathos. The piece sounds as something closer to Shostakovich than to late Viennese romanticism.

  • The View from America says:

    “Leonard Bernstein hated Sinopoli, adored Jeffrey Tate”

    There’s no accounting for taste …

  • Esther Cavett says:

    Lenny also liked Trevor Pinnock

  • check out 49:46

    “… and there was no applause”


    I hope we have video of that.

  • Rob says:

    Interesting Bernstein’s view on Maxwell Davies. Maxwell Davies being the greatest classical composer of the latter half of the last century.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    How important are in the overall assessment of a conductor their Mahler interpretations? I don’t think anyone would argue that Mahler symphonies were among Sinopoli’s strengths.
    On the other hand, I have yet to find Jeffrey Tate’s weak links.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    Watch it at 1.5 speed as this guy really drawls.

    • Bill says:

      My reaction was to check to see if this was the same guy who had written such an entertaining volume on his years with LB! [Yes] I’ve heard and read some riveting oral histories, but this was kind of a snoozer. Glad I read the book first, because of my first exposure had been watching 10 or 15 minutes of this, I probably wouldn’t have bothered, and that would have been a shame. I never met Bernstein, but reading the book painted a picture that fit what I had heard and seen. As they say in the car biz, YMMV.

  • NYMike says:

    My feelings re Sinopoli, as well.

  • Daniel Poulin says:

    Sinopoli was the most charming conductor I had the privilege of interviewing. We spent an hour on the radio (live) in French. Not a bad word to say of his fellow musicians. I am sure he would have accepted Bernstein’s opinions with grace. In 1967 Bernstein gave a very interesting interview (also in French) soon after recording Bruckner’s 9th and following the completion of a Mahler Cycle. He considered Bruckner a “…rural man & somewhat naïve” while Mahler was “…a citizen of the world, a man with an incredible deep mind”.

    • Mick the Knife says:

      That is the stereotypical view of Bruckner that is totally surficial.

    • Chris Ponto says:

      Apparently, Bruckner’s 9th was the only Bruckner LB recorded. (Twice.) I read that he regarded HvK’s Bruckner recordings to be so untouchable that he left to him the repertoire. (He also was said, somewhere, to have left Messiah out of his repertoire after hearing Colin Davis’s 1966 version.) Back in LB’s heyday, many conductors were “either/or” when it came to the coming popularity of Mahler and Bruckner. Bernstein was a Mahler guy, and Hvk recorded very few Mahler pieces. Jochum and Boehm gravitated more to Bruckner, on record, as well. Haitink and Solti were exceptions…

      • Gaffney Feskoe says:

        Although he never commercially recorded it, LB also performed the Bruckner Sixth. A recording of a performance exists in a box set of LB’s radio broadcasts with the N.Y. Philhamonic.

    • Olassus says:

      Those observations about Bruckner and Mahler as men are accurate.

    • Nicolas Couton says:

      Dear Daniel, do you where it could be possible to hear this interview of Sinopoli in French???

  • Maria says:

    So what? Many didn’t like Lenny as a person, or as a conductor, or as a composer. What you sew, you eventually reap! Pays to speak well of people rather than ill all the time.

    • John Borstlap says:

      ‘Only tell the truth they want to hear, and act on the truth you see for yourself.’ Machiavelli: ‘The Prince’.

      ‘If you pretend to be good, the world takes you very seriously. If you pretend to be bad, it doesn’t. Such is the astounding stupidity of optimism.’ Oscar Wilde

      ‘If one tells the truth, one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out.’ Oscar Wilde

    • Nydo says:

      Do you mean “what you sew, you eventually rip, or what you sow, you eventually reap”? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

  • Q S Mathews Jr. says:

    Heard Bernstein lead the Concertgebouw orchestra (in said hall) in the Mahler 9 in 1985, released by DG. There was no lack of enthusiasm by the audience or local press.

  • Mathias Broucek says:

    Sinopoli’s Mahler 4 with the SKD is pretty special. So is his Stuttgart 6th. Philharmonia cycle isn’t bad but not on the level of those mentioned previously

  • Sue says:

    Bernstein wanted to walk out of Sinopoli’s Mahler concert after a minute and a half? He couldn’t leave because he was sitting in the middle the row? Wow! If Bernstein sat on the aisle and did walk out, that would be incredibly disrespectful and rude to the conductor, musicians, and audience, especially as a fellow conductor!

  • sev says:

    Saying something is horrible without giving any rationale is what adolescents do.

  • Meredith says:

    Bernstein did not like a charlatan like Sinopoli. What a surprise!

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Like him or not, Sinopoli was a polymath and an intellectual. As a conductor he had plenty of critics both for his technical competence (or lack thereof, depending who you asked) and his interpretations. But I don’t think his personal integrity was ever in question. (I’d love to hear a response from anyone who performed under Sinopoli’s direction.)

    • Ludicrous comment backed up with no evidence. Its your opinion; nothing else.

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    I have heard differing things about Sinopoli. This thread made me go to YOUTUBE and take a listen.

    I must say that I was impressed with his Tchaik 5 interpretation. Very straightforward and Classical in way rather than overly Romantic. Well balanced too.

    There are many Bernstein interpretations that I do not care for even though he was a genius.

    That includes some of his Mahler interpretations which should be definitive since he was a direct decendant of the Truth (Mahler – Walter – Bernstein).

    Sometimes ego gets in the way…

  • Hilary says:

    What do two expert critics have to say of Sinopoli’s account of Mahler 4?

    “mediocre” David Hurwitz.
    5/10 for the complete cycle.

    “There is no finer account on disc” Andrew Clements.
    3/5 for the complete cycle

  • fflambeau says:

    It’s a fascinating interview, but one must recognize that Mr. Harmon is only one source. Oddly enough, Harmon never listened to the score or saw the movie West Side Story.

    On Sinopoli and Mahler, Bernstein was not alone. From a Guardian column on Sinpoli and Mahler:

    “It should explain that Giuseppe Sinopoli’s Mahler could drive some of the composer’s devotees to apoplexy, and that anyone wanting a basic set of the symphonies to add to their CD collection would be better off looking elsewhere – to one of the integral versions conducted by Haitink (Philips), Solti (Decca) or Kubelik (DG), even perhaps to one of the two by Bernstein (Sony and DG) – even though none of these rivals contains so much music as this.”

    Or another review of Sinpoli’s Mahler:

    “A set easily dispensed with: Sinopoli delivers fine performances of Symphonies 2, 3, and 5, and an exceptionally good Das Lied von der Erde (with the Staatskapelle Dresden sounding much more at home and idiomatic than the Philharmonia ever does). Everything else is mediocre (Das Klagende Lied; Symphonies Nos. 1, 4, 8, and 9) to lousy (Symphonies Nos. 6 and 7).


  • fflambeau says:

    Bernstein not only liked Tate but he adored Carlos Kleiber as a conductor. That’s good taste.

    Meanwhile, Bernstein was not the only musician to question Sinpoli’s Mahler. A review in the Guardian reads: “This latest compilation [of Mahler works by Sinpoli] really should come with a health warning. It should explain that Giuseppe Sinopoli’s Mahler could drive some of the composer’s devotees to apoplexy, and that anyone wanting a basic set of the symphonies to add to their CD collection would be better off looking elsewhere… .” Similarly, ClassicalMusic.com described Sinpoli’s Mahler as varying from j”mediocre” to “lousy”. https://www.classicstoday.com/review/review-8823/

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Giuseppe Sinopoli was a real polymath, not only a conductor and composer but also medicine doctor and archaeologist. Many people did not like him, not only Leonard Bernstein, and I am sure that envy was the upmost reason.

  • francesco cilluffo says:

    It’s a typical case of hitting too close to home. Sinopoli and Bernstein had much more in common than one would imagine, and they were often both criticized for the same reasons: slow tempos, ideas and experimenting vs tradition, personal beating technique, hate it or love it approach to classics. As much as one could dislike him, I think that Sinopoli’s takes on Mahler, Puccini, Strauss, Wagner, Zemlinsky, Schumann and Elgar are absolutely essential to know for any person who calls himself a performer today.

  • Philip A Kraus says:

    Charlie Harmon says that Sinopoli’s Mahler didn’t sell very well. Curious, that DGG recorded the entire cycle with him. If its not selling, why would they bother. Sinopoli was a great Mahler conductor, so I’m not sure what Bernstein’s problem was…perhaps the Academy of Santa Cecilia is not used to playing Mahler…but Sinopoli’s recordings with the Philharmonia are just fine and often intriguing! Bernstein’s earlier recordings are in my view superior to his later ones with a few exceptions!