The image at the top of my blog is of Leonard Bernstein, composer, teacher, conductor, and generally extraordinary artist. As a conductor, he is famous for his expressiveness unbridled by technical restraint. Thanks to YouTube, I can let him speak a little for himself:
Anything I say about him or what he does feels a bit trite, but I must say that my goal as a conductor is to be that kind of artist. Some day.
Bernstein heard truth in music, perceived expressive intent with great clarity, and was able to embody that intent completely and fully, with his whole self. He sort of has a reputation as a jerk who flails because his technique is so wacky and funny to an outside observer. Certainly there are criticisms to be made of his interpretations, but I’m simply in awe of him. I think his interpretations are romantic because he feels things that way. Is it objective musical truth? Nope. It’s subjective, Bernsteiny, intimate, personal truth. A performance by him has compelling perspective. Right or wrong, I don’t know, but deeply moving because it is him, his humanity. As in the clip below, he gives truthfully of himself without fear or apology and it’s powerful.
The orchestra is playing the pants off of that piece. As much sound as they can make, as much intensity as they can play, they are giving it to him. The intensity of his giving compels them to do the same.
Which is why he’s in the picture at the top of my blog. When I say “thoughtful,” I mean considerate as well as cognitive, perceptive as well as well-planned. His gesture speaks to his ensembles and to us because it is the truth, and the truth has an unmistakable ring to it.
This is the most subjective post I’ve written so far, and the most controversial point I will ever make. Bernstein has his detractors, who think he imposes himself on the music. I think he makes art. He connects his humanity to his work, and that’s what I think it’s all about: meaning, music, and conducting.