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Reflections on Leonard Bernstein

In olden times, perhaps a hundred years ago, there were still uncharted
corners of the Earth to explore, so that a great fantasy author like
Edgar Rice Burroughs could tuck away a half-dozen unknown civilizations
in the midst of “darkest Africa” for Tarzan to discover, or claim that
large polar openings exist by which the inhabitants of the lands of the
outer crust could enter the inner world of Pellucidar. Sadly, with
Google Earth staring us in the face it requires much more suspension
of disbelief to read Burroughs’ novels today than it did when they were
first published. There are few if any areas of the physical Earth that
remain unexplored. Nowadays the unexplored territories are in the
vast realm of cyberspace. And armed with a web browser, a cup of
coffee, and a comfy chair, I have been known to spend hours at a time
searching for treasure in the jungles of the Internet.

One of my favorite haunts is YouTube. If you are a fan of serious
music, the number of recorded concerts, including rare historical
footage and sound recordings, is mind-boggling. One cool thing about
YouTube is the way your viewing can go off into unexpected tangents,
prompted by the video suggestions that appear on the right side of the
page when you watch a video. For example, yesterday I went from
watching videos of pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin to watching Chico Marx
playing the piano, to watching clips of Leslie Nielson in Forbidden
Planet, to watching episodes of the 60’s TV show Honey West. I love the
combination of seeing old familiar videos with new videos I have never
seen before.

One recent tangent has been watching clips of the conductor Leonard
Bernstein. When I grew up I watched broadcasts of the Young People’s
Concerts that he hosted. In the 60’s I remember going to a concert of
his Mass in Philadelphia and seeing him conduct in person. Many of my
LPs (that’s long-playing records, i.e. vinyl to those raised in the CD
era) were by Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. I remember in
particular how fond I was of their recording of Ravel’s Daphnis and
Chloe. Bernstein is best know as a conductor and of course composer of
West Side Story. He was also a talented pianist. Being proficient at
all three of these musical skills is rare; Rachmaninoff was another with
all three skills. But clips on YouTube really demonstrate what an
amazing musician he was. His conducting style was criticized as too
dynamic, too flamboyant. You might interpret these clips that way, but
I instead see a man who is really one with the music. Here was a great
American. Do we have greats like this anymore? If America is on the
decline, is it a least in part because we have lost this kind of spirit?

Here is Bernstein conducting and playing the last movement of Ravel’s
Piano Concerto in G.

And here is a just mind-blowing clip of the end of Mahler’s 2nd
Symphony.

By mannd

I am a retired cardiac electrophysiologist who has worked both in private practice in Louisville, Kentucky and as a Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver. I am interested not only in medicine, but also in computer programming, music, science fiction, fantasy, 30s pulp literature, and a whole lot more.

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