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When Leonard Bernstein first hit my radar, it was with a Canadian perspective

When Leonard Bernstein first hit my radar, it was with a Canadian perspective featured image

Bernstein and Gould in rehearsal – likely discussing tempi … 

It’s the 100th anniversary Leonard Bernstein’s birth on August 25. I can’t articulate the influence this great artist had in so many ways – as a conductor, composer, and the thing closest to my heart, as a music educator. I recall seeing broadcasts on PBS of him conducting the New York Phil, and hearing many cuts from “West Side Story” on the radio. In fact, when my mother, “The Matriarch”, grilled me on my music intervals, when it came to an augmented fourth, she told me to remember the opening of “Maria”, as sung by Tony. “Ma-ri-a”, opens with this interval, leading to a perfect fifth (sorry for the nerdy music theory jargon. If you have no idea what this means, find me a keyboard, and I’ll show you.) “Mambo”, also from West Side Story, remains a favourite – a piece of music that makes me want to leap up and dance around.

As I’ve mentioned before, I had many conversations in the car with my dad about music, and I distinctly recall him telling me a story about Glenn Gould performing the Brahms D- Piano Concerto with Bernstein conducting. My dad always loved a character, and said Bernstein was so taken aback by Gould’s insistence on some unusual tempi (the pace, flow, and speed of music) that he actually made a disclaimer to the audience before introducing Gould to the stage. (To clarify, the “character” dad was referring to was Gould, but when I look back on it, I’d say both were definitely characters). I remember being shocked by this and wishing like crazy I could hear the disclaimer (this was before the internet, folks).

I’m so happy this link is available online. You’ll hear the radio commentator describe what’s happening on stage; Bernstein’s legendary disclaimer; Gould’s infamous Brahms; and an interview with Gould himself, admitting he was giggling backstage during Bernstein’s introduction.

For me, my first memory of Leonard Bernstein has a proud Canadian association. And it’s a nice way for me to honour Leonard Bernstein on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

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