Ed Bedford 11:44 p.m., June 19
Leonard Bernstein contained multitudes. He was more than an extraordinary composer/conductor, who knew every note in the canon and its musical value. He was a gifted teacher (astonishingly patient, clear, and generous). His Six Talks at Harvard (1976) also show him in tune with the most forward critical thinking of the time.
Of the 20th century, he said, "We tend to view our century as so advanced, so prosperous, and swift in its developments, that we lose sight of its deeper, truer self image, the image of a shy, frightened child adrift in a shaky universe, living under the constant threat of Mummy and Daddy about to divorce or die."
Hershey Felder attempts to sum up Bernstein's multitudes in a 95-minute tribute.
The first two-thirds of the evening take Bernstein up to age 25. They move at a detailed, instructive, and highly entertaining pace. Felder provides useful background about Bernstein's parents and Talmudic roots. Felder island-hops from influence to influence, including Aaron Copland (who told him to quit composing) and Serge Koussevitzky, the "father-figure."
Suddenly, he's substitute-conducting the New York Philharmonic at age 25 and an instant sensation.
The last third of the evening plays as if Felder had to condense the rest of the life. A steady pace and detail give way to reductive summing up, and the final 47 years move at a minute per. Later works, like his theater-piece "MASS," only get a mention. Fedler leaves us with Bernstein's "issues": Who am I? Guilt over the way he treated his wife Felicia. Worry about being so eclectic he didn't have a defining piece of music (though some now point to "MASS" as the one).
As Felder demonstrated in previous tributes to Gershwin and Beethoven, he's a maestro at the piano (though less so as a vocalist). It's fascinating to follow a strand of music as it connects with other notes and themes across the "continuum." In many ways the sounds flying from a black Steinway grand tell the story, and its complexities, far more eloquently than the words.