Conductor, pianist, composer, writer, lecturer, celebrity, and above all, enthusiastic, irrepressible teacher, Leonard Bernstein (1918–90) was the presiding genius of classical music in America during the twentieth century. Baby boomers raptly learned about classical music from the 14 years’ worth of televised New York Philharmonic Young Peoples’ Concerts he hosted, and to read the long version of Cott’s 1989 Rolling Stone interview is to be excited with Bernstein all over again. Early and late in the 12-hour dialogue, Bernstein calls Cott’s attention to passages in Sibelius and Mahler, respectively (the latter of whom Bernstein boosted to his present lofty perch in the orchestral repertoire), and the magic takes hold—the magic of music, for although Bernstein is charismatic, that is never in the cause of Bernstein. Music and the love that informs it and animates its performance are the great themes of this talk that scarcely touches anything nonmusical. Conferring added delight is the marvelous Yiddishkeit Bernstein manifests talking to just one fan rather than a concert hall full of them. --Ray Olson
In this Leonard Bernstein's last interview, he tells Jonathan Cott that there are some things he is not going to talk about: he does not have favorite orchestras, favorite composers, favorite symphonies, favorite kinds of food, favorite forms of sex. The rest of the world is fair game. Then in an interview that goes for several hours, he proceeds to talk about everything: his views on music-- composers, his recordings, performers-- the list is endless-- are just a small part of his domain. Politics, presidents, religion, you name it.
This interview should be required reading for lovers of music as well as anyone who takes pleasure in seeing the mind of a genius at work. Here are some of my favorite of his comments/opinions. Richard Nixon was the greatest crook of all time. During the Reagan years, "we had eight lovely, passive, on-our-backs, status quo, don't make-waves years." The most exciting thing that has happened in Bernstein's lifetime is the fall of the Berlin Wall. "Unless you have an enemy, there's no way to live. We must have a war economy or we have no economy."
We must have active rather than passive listeners of music. Bernstein tells of the composer Virgil Thomson falling asleep and snoring audibly during a performance and then writing a review of-- what he didn't hear I suppose-- the next day.
Finally in what has to be the most moving section of the interview Mr. Bernstein gives his views on life after death, saying that the "you-ness goes on. I will swear that Felicia [his deceased wife] is with me a lot. . . though not in her shape. I am frequently visited by a white moth or a white butterfly. . . And I know it's Felicia. I remember that when she died, her coffin was in our living room in East Hampton. . .and just a few of us were there. . .Read more ›
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There are few who would dispute that Leonard Bernstein was one of the twentieth century's greatest composers and conductors. There are even fewer who would dispute his influence on modern classical music. Perhaps this gave him the right to a touch of the narcissistic persuasion, and certainly it is present here, in a delightful way. Jonathan Cott leaps at the opportunity to interview this great icon. The interviewer fawns over his idol, and Bernstein does not disappoint. In this interview, he is everything from the free-love guru to the well-versed poet to the Zen master, and we are treated to his reflections over past performances as often as we are treated to his musings over philosophy and politics.
A great part of the interview is devoted to Mahler (of course), and this is fitting since Bernstein was enamored of Mahler, even being buried with a copy of Mahler's 5th Symphony on his breast. Here Bernstein offers food for thought for even the most unschooled of listeners, and even as one who is no expert in Mahler, I found his reflections and interpretations compelling. (There is a compelling performance of Mahler's Fifth on Youtube, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.)
Bernstein was nothing if not opinionated, and as a teacher, I especially found his educational philosophy appealing. Bernstein was interested in the democratization of classical music, making it accessible to all, and seemed to hold a special interest in educating the underprivileged.Read more ›
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A truncated version of Jonathan Cott's multi-hour-length 1989 interview with American icon, composer, conductor, media personality, and political activist Leonard Bernstein appeared in Rolling Stone magazine the year of Bernstein's death. Dinner with Lenny includes the complete over-dinner-and-drinks interview. Cott contextualizes the interview by including extensive material on Bernstein's life and importance as a musical icon before the interview transcript itself, as well as a "Postlude" that tells the story of Bernstein's quick slide into the ravages of cancer and death. Cott and Bernstein discuss a wide variety of topics, including the conductor's work, his view of major composers of his time and from throughout history, Bernstein's assessment of 1980s rock music versus the classic rock of the 1960s (hint/spoiler: Bernstein continued right up to the end to praise the pop songwriters of the sixties and had little positive to say about the eighties). Religion, politics, psychology, sociology, the arts as the reflection of the inner struggle of the artist, the natural inclination of human beings to play, and a whole lot more are part of this fascinating and passionate discussion. A must-read book for any musician, music teacher, or reader interested in the multitude of roles of music in society.
Jonathan Cott has made a name for himself as a writer, both with The New York Times and The New Yorker. In addition he's the author of many books, mostly non-fiction. He is a student of music and a serious one; Cott knows his stuff, he can speak intelligently about both music theory and music history and as such, who better to interview Leonard Bernstein?
"Dinner With Lenny" is a long time coming. Originally, Jon Cott was assigned an 8,000 word interview by Rolling Stone Magazine to interview Leonard Bernstein in November of 1989. At that time, no one knew that Cott's interview would be the last. Bernstein was a renowned chain smoker, a liberal drinker and a man who lived a fast energetic life and though common sense said that Bernstein would not live to be as old as Irving Berlin, somehow the man seemed to be as energetic in 1990 as he was in 1935. This energy is captured on the pages of this wonderful new book. Every detail of the twelve hours spent at Bernstein's Connecticut home is documented here so that you feel as though you are there with them.
This is a wonderful read; not a long one, but for many people it's a repeat read: this is not just an interview but a book of philosophy, a book about how to raise children and a book about how to live, love and laugh. There is a Kikuyu saying that when a man dies he takes a library with him. And so is the case with Leonard Bernstein. We must treasure everything he left behind.
Before we go too far into this, it must be clarified that Bernstein rhymes with Burn Mine. This was a serious issue with Leonard Bernstein as many people pronounced it Burn-steen. (in a song Stephen Sondheim wrote for Lenny's 70th birthday, he used his rhyming skills and puzzle skills to make a joke of this.Read more ›