With the death of Leonard Bernstein in 1990, the music world lost one of its most vital forces. Bernstein's death came only a matter of days after he had announced his retirement from conducting, and the news was received with incredulity and shock around the world. A composer, a conductor, a pianist, host of the wildly popular Omnibus
series and the Young People's Concerts
, Bernstein was in many ways a pioneer. The first American to conduct at La Scala (Cherubini's Medea
in 1953 with Maria Callas), and the first to take over a major American orchestra when he became Music Director of the New York Philharmonic in 1958, he gave a new respectability to the idea of the American-born-and-trained musician. As Tim Page wrote in Newsday
after Bernstein's death, Bernstein's decision to make a career in America was "a declaration of independence" for his generation of American musicians.
In Conversations About Bernstein
, friends, critics, and collaborators, as well as the world-class musicians who shared the stage with Bernstein, remember the private artist behind the public flamboyance and acclaim. In an unprecedented series of interviews with author William Westbrook Burton, they reveal how Bernstein worked, the perennial conflicts in his personal and professional lives, and why he made the choices that he did. Here are not only the great triumphs--the stunning debuts as conductor with the New York or the Vienna Philharmonics, the rapturous reception of the incomparable West Side Story
--but the moments of self-doubt and crushing disappointment as well. Composer Lukas Foss remembers Bernstein as a preternaturally poised young student under pressure to work in his father's beauty parlor business. Former New York Times
critic Harold Schonberg maintains that his unrelentingly negative reviews of Bernstein's performances made no difference to Bernstein's career. Carol Lawrence recreates the historic first production of West Side Story
. Conductor John Mauceri recalls with deep affection Bernstein's sometimes maddening methods of conducting and composing, and members of Bernstein's orchestras as well as opera stars Christa Ludwig, Frederica Von Stade, Jerry Hadley, and renowned cellist Mstislav Rostropovich share recollections of memorable recordings and performances.
A portrait emerges of a remarkably generous conductor and musical theatre collaborator adored worldwide, who nonetheless believed at the end of his life that his single most cherished ambition--the creation of a serious masterwork--remained unrealized. Candid, entertaining, and often moving, Conversations About Bernstein
is a deeply enjoyable look at the career of arguably the most famous musician of our time.