Legend of Lenny

New Yorker, Dec. 15, 2008

Article created: 12?11?2008

................................................The moment exemplifies Bernstein’s ability to render almost any abstract sequence of notes or chords as a physical act, a sweatily human gesture. The effect is difficult to achieve. Musicians must be cajoled into creating a particular kind of unison: not a robotic sameness of execution but a deeper unanimity in which spontaneous activities on the part of each player viscerally realize the conductor’s vision. There are videos in which you can see Bernstein striving for that unanimity, and it is not always pleasant to watch. When the feeling is absent, he exhibits irritation, rage, or—most unsettlingly—an unhappiness that threatens to spiral into despair. He tells members of the august Vienna Philharmonic that unless they try harder “there will be no Mahler,” and then he hangs his head, as if averting his eyes from an unspeakable crime. Usually, things turn around. The players fall in line—that trembling, hurtling line in which Bernstein seemed the most inspired follower rather than the leader. Although he basked in fame, he never accumulated power: each night, he gave away everything he had.

This fall, Carnegie Hall, in league with the New York Philharmonic and other organizations, has been presenting a festival called “Bernstein: The Best of All Possible Worlds.” Bernstein, who died in 1990, would have turned ninety this year, but no excuse for a party is needed. When the festival ends this week, with a chamber concert, Carnegie’s leaders should take a bow; their series.........................

Read more at:  http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2008/12/15/081215crat_atlarge_ross