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Working with Bernstein Hardcover – May 15, 2010
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About the Author
Jack Gottlieb is a composer who has written for the concert hall, the theater, and the synagogue. He was Leonard Bernstein's assistant at the New York Philharmonic. He is the senior member of the Leonard Bernstein Office, the editor of three Bernstein books, consultant for the Bernstein estate, and an editor of the Bernstein newsletter, Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs.
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In a world populated by syncophants, I had hoped that someone would have tried to take the Maestro aside and question him sharply about his turgid interpretations and wilful choice of tempi (maybe someone *did* but, perhaps, Gottleib didn't know, or didn't want to talk about the circumstances behind those conversations).
And I continue to wonder if Bernstein's taffy pulls with tempi, slowing them down, almost to the point of stasis (Elgar's "Nimrod" variation, for example Elgar: Enigma Variations), was a side effect of declining health, or a misguided belief that slower = great depth and profoundity? Or worse, boredom? As a celebrated composer himself, I can't help but believe, that Bernstein would have been outraged if another conductor treated *his* scores the way he treated many composers in this final phase of his recording and performing career. Very sad.
A fairly interesting book, but nothing like what it could have been.
Often referred by others to as Bernstein's "assistant," he was, as one learns in reading this book, a whole lot more, for this is a highly personal memoir of Gottlieb's decades-long professional and personal association with one of the giants of Classical Music in the last half of the 20th century.
The reticence is over. Gottlieb unabashedly goes into fascinating detail about the Maestro, his quirks and foibles, his colleagues, friends, etc. But it is hardly a "tell-all" pot-boiler, for there is nothing seamy, seedy, or sordid in his reportage. Referring to diaries Gottlieb kept at the time, one gets a portrait that is respectful and not fawning.
The photographs from Gottlieb's own personal archive are a fascinating record of the whirlwind that seemed to accompany Bernstein wherever he went or did.
The style might strike some as too colloquial, but with Gottlieb, what one sees (or reads), one gets. He is inordinately fond of word play (a habit only attenuated by Bernstein, who was a master of the "bon mot"), dear reader, so be forewarned.
The book is comprised to two parts: (1) Gottlieb's working life with Bernstein, from ill-defined "assistant, to "Man Friday," and ultimately Bernstein's editor. (2) a comprehensive anthology of Gottlieb's critical writings about Bernstein's compositions, articles that often appeared in professional journals, newspapers, newsletters, etc. No one but someone very close to Bernstein could know so much first hand, from the inside, about Bernstein's works, how they were composed, when they were composted, and under what circumstances they were composed.
To his credit, Gottlieb pulls no punches and does not gloss over the controversies that frequently surrounded Bernstein. Rather, he provides especially important details that counter the sensationalist rubbish that all too often litter other biographies and detract from Bernstein's genius.
Working With Bernstein
By Jack Gottlieb
A Review by Michael Isaacson
While reading Working With Bernstein, Jack Gottlieb's fascinating and engrossing history of his professional relationship with Leonard Bernstein, I kept thinking of the writings of rabbinic midrashists, both halachic and aggadic. Would our understanding of primary texts of the Bible, Prophets, and Writings be as rich without the analytic insights, explanations, and narrative appendices of Rashi, Rambam, or the Gaonim?
Leonard Bernstein's musical productivity was astounding, a shining model for us all, but would his achievements have been as sui generis without the often unattributed contributions of his devoted staff of assistants, secretaries, agents, business managers, researchers, annotators, lyricists, and orchestrators in the background?
Gottlieb served many of these support functions and was in the picture from the early days at Brandeis University through Bernstein's death (a most touching recounting). His allegiance was more than dedicated, it was a faithful bond that often surpassed the collegial, familial, and, yes, even midrashic. Today, Gottlieb serves perhaps an even greater function as the Bernstein family's ad hoc mayven on all things pertaining to the Maestro. His articles for the Amberson office's Prelude Fugue and Riffs (an ongoing account of Bernstein's enduring musical contribution) never fail to elevate, and educate.
This is not to say that all was idyllic. There is a smaller book within this authoritative recounting that might be subtitled Working For Bernstein. Who can blame Gottlieb for periodically venting bits of disappointment, frustration, and aggravation at being Bernstein's scapegoat when things were not working smoothly? Interestingly, these therapeutic asides are often more revealing in bringing Bernstein's behind the scenes existential reality into vivid focus than the expected complimentary prose.
It is quite clear that Gottlieb knows and understands Bernstein and his music`s multi-leveled textures better than most other biographers since he was (with a ten year hiatus) in the trenches with him throughout. His narrative style is at once academic, informal, chatty, analytically observant, and loving to his task.
Working With Bernstein, published by Amadeus Press, is a great read that has filled in many gaps in my understanding of Bernstein. I thoroughly recommend it to all.