Leonard Bernstein Remembrance

11 November 1990

As you all must know by now (unless your only reading material consists of Rolling Stone and the Los Angeles Weekly), Leonard Bernstein died October 14th. The following is a little remembrance I wrote up that evening and posted on some local bulletin boards:

Just heard the sad news that Leonard Bernstein died today, aged 72. It was not unexpected, as he'd been in failing health for some time, and had been hospitalized a couple of months ago with a lung tumor and emphysema.

Bernstein was a lot of things. He was a conductor, probably the best-known one to the American public. He was a composer, both of "serious" works and of musicals -- and those musicals include "Wonderful Town" and "West Side Story." (For the latter one, he set words by Stephen Sondheim, in case you'd forgotten!) He was also a pianist of great ability; when Aaron Copland was going to have his piano sonata premiered, and the pianist who was to have played it got sick, Bernstein learned the score, memorized it, and played the premiere -- in 24 hours!

Bernstein was also a prolific writer on music and related subjects; his writings fill up a few books, including The Infinite Variety of Music. And of course, he was a TV star, who first on CBS' "Omnibus" and later on the "Young People's Concerts" introduced millions of people of all ages to symphonic music.

Sure, Bernstein was contentious. Sure, his interpretations often hovered on the border of vulgarity -- and sometimes leaped wholeheartedly over that border! Sure, some of his compositions are thorny, some are empty, and some are just pompous. And sure, his personal life was -- how can I charitably say it? -- a mess. But set all this aside. He was a great musician, a great teacher, and yes, in his way (though this sounds awfully tawdry) a great human being.

I never met him (though he once walked past me after a concert), and in a way I'm kind of glad I never did (see the above remark about his personal life), but he's been part of my life all of my life. And I'm going to miss him.

"...hold my hand, and I'll take you there...."