Blog Archives

Leonard Bernstein’s 95th Birthday

Guest Blogger: Steve J. Sherman, author of Leonard Bernstein At Work: His Final Years, 1984-1990in honor of Leonard Bernstein.

Leonard Bernstein at 95 by Steve J. Sherman

Sunday August 25, 2013, would have been Leonard Bernstein’s 95th birthday. It’s hard to believe he’s been gone from this earth for 23 years already, and hard to imagine that his star could continue to rise even higher than the iconic international superstar status he achieved by the end of his life. But indeed, with each passing year, more and more people are discovering the genius and joy of Leonard Bernstein and his music; the creations of his brilliant mind and passionate heart, fueled by his mad desire to soar dangerously close to the sun as he searched for meaning here on earth…

In honor of this day and this man, I am delighted to share with you this excerpt from the Preamble I wrote for my book of Bernstein photographs and memories, Leonard Bernstein At Work: His Final Years 1984-1990 (Amadeus 2010). Happy birthday Lenny…

Photographing Lenny was always an event. There was always a buzz in the air, an excitement, an anticipation. When Lenny was in the house, something was going to happen.

You could feel it. Lenny would walk out on stage to begin a rehearsal, and everyone would stop talking or tuning, and focus on him. There were always detours on his way to the podium, saying hi to old friends or new ones, with a warm smile, a reminiscence, and if not a hug, then a hand on an arm or a one-handed one-squeeze shoulder massage – he was a very tactile person. But once he hit the podium, he made it clear that he expected 100% from each and every musician on the stage. He didn’t have to say it — he simply led by example.

He gave all of himself, and allowed his love, his extreme passion, his raw charisma, his powerful convictions, to guide his heart and mind. His fresh and sincere exhilaration for the music, and his insatiable lust for and curiosity about life, infected everyone in the room. As a result we gave him 150% back… and the results are legendary.

I say we, as if I were one of the musicians. But I was also on stage (or hovering close by), and I found myself equally compelled to rise above my limits, and break through my upper expectations…

And that was good. I was never able to let my guard down for a second – my concentration had to be complete if I wanted to follow where he was going – his energy could burst forth suddenly, and then recede just as quickly. He could conduct with only his shoulders, or his eyebrows, or his feet as he gently bounced his otherwise still body… Whatever it was, it was total immersion.

I think my photos of Lenny are just a bit better than most everything else in my archive. And I wish I could claim credit for that. But I can’t – it was simply the way things had to be when photographing Lenny.

Steve J. Sherman

Leonard Bernstein At Work

Leonard Bernstein is internationally renowned as one of the most significant composers, musical inspirations, and creative minds of the 20th century. In addition, many consider him to be the greatest American conductor of all time. He is legendary, not only for his brilliant music-making but equally for his extreme passion, raw charisma, powerful convictions, and insatiable appetite for life.

This remarkable photographic essay of Leonard Bernstein during the last six years of his life gives us rare insight into the disparate, sometimes vastly conflicting elements that shaped his work and deeply influenced everyone who was drawn into his inner world. It contains approximately 200 black-and-white photographs, most previously unpublished, taken on and off stage during 20 different events or concerts, along with personal comments and remembrances from over 50 of his colleagues, friends, and relatives.

The foreword is by Hollywood superstar Lauren Bacall, the preface by Jamie Bernstein (Leonard Bernstein’s eldest daughter), and the introduction by James M. Keller, Leonard Bernstein scholar-in-residence at the New York Philharmonic.

These vivid images reveal Leonard Bernstein at work in his final years, as mortality encroached upon his unrelenting energy and indefatigable creative genius.

Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring

Guest Blogger: Rikky Rooksby is the author of numerous volumes on music and songwriting.  Enjoy his musings on The Rite of Spring, and visit his website for the full article.

A piece of music which is on my mind very much at present is Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, or to give it its English title The Rite Of Spring. 2013 marks the centenary of its first performance on 29 May 1913 in Paris. This centenary is being celebrated all over the world, with live performances, books and CD releases. I’ve a small part in all this, as I’m teaching a course on the Rite for Oxford University Dept. of Continuing Education in the summer.

The first performance of the Rite is legendary because of the so-called ‘riot’ that broke out among the audience. A certain percentage of the audience reacted angrily to the Rite‘s flouting of their expectations of what ballet and music should be. The ballet was created by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company, with choreography by Nijinsky and scenery by Nicholas Roerich. The dancers wore costumes, used postures and movements that were contrary to traditional ballet.

The ballet is set in an imaginary ancient Russia and centres on a ritual to bring the spring in which a girl is selected from the tribe and who dances herself to death. As such, it is a work which could be seen to synchronously anticipate the sacrifice of youth during the First World War.

Keep reading this post on Rikky Rooksby’s site!

Rikky Rooksby is a guitar teacher, songwriter/composer, and writer on popular music. Considered the premiere author of songwriting guides, Rooksby has also written numerous music history and guitar instruction books and has published over 200 interviews, reviews, articles, and transcriptions in music magazines. He has also transcribed and arranged more than 40 chord songbooks, including music by Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, The Beatles, and many other artists.

A member of the Guild of International Songwriters and Composers, Rooksby is also a sought-after teacher who leads courses on music at The Oxford Experience and other international continuing education summer schools.

Conductor Chronicles


Guest Blogger: Janet Horvath is the author of Playing Less Hurt. Here is her latest blog post on Interlude.

Audiences regard the maestro with awe. Their god-like stance on the podium and their mesmerizing control over the musicians is the stuff of legend. Those ruthless dictators are beyond reproach, known for their demanding rehearsal techniques and brusque manner. But surely it is intimidating to stand before one hundred or so (sometimes hostile) musicians. Within one upbeat the performers size them up. Although their stance in front of the orchestra seems so majestic and commanding, they too have their foibles.

One of our beloved guest conductors, Helmut Rilling, is one of the world’s preeminent interpreters of Bach and the choral repertoire. We performed an unforgettable Bach B minor Mass with him. A diminutive man with a mild manner, he is unassuming off the podium and a bit absent-minded. I remember a Messiah performance at the Saint Paul Cathedral – a massive, ornate rotunda of marble and wood, adorned by stunning stained glass windows and oil paintings. The performance was packed. The first half of the concert went splendidly with gorgeous vocal solos and stylistically authentic string playing – not too much vibrato!

We adjourned to the sacristy for the intermission. The few restrooms and a large chorus room were downstairs. I hesitated to venture down to the cavernous space – a maze of dark hallways and low-ceilinged rooms.

We took our places onstage after intermission. The soloists made their entrance. The audience was hushed as we waited in anticipation for the maestro to enter. We waited. And we waited. And we waited. Suddenly, an usher rushed to the Priest who was sitting in the sixth row. A hasty whispered exchange ensued. The Priest jumped to his feet and rushed out. I wondered if someone needed last rites. Finally, a sheepish Rilling made his entrance onto the stage. The show could go on at last. We gossiped about what had happened. Why did he look so disconcerted and downright distracted? Apparently, during intermission, Rilling had wandered around downstairs and somehow he was locked in the catacombs, trapped among the coffins. He had to wait for the clerical search and rescue team for liberation. It would have been rude to proceed with the concert without him!

For further reading please visit interlude.

Playing Less Hurt

Playing Less Hurt addresses this need with specific tools to avoid and alleviate injury. Impressively researched, the book is invaluable not only to musicians, but also to the coaches and medical professionals who work with them. Everyone from dentists to orthopedists, audiologists to neurologists, massage therapists and trainers will benefit from Janet Horvath’s coherent account of the physiology and psyche of a practicing musician. Writing with knowledge, sympathetic insight, humor, and aplomb, Horvath has created an essential resource for all musicians who want to play better and feel better.

Remembering Rabin

Forty years ago today was the passing of one of history’s greatest violinists, Michael Rabin. To tell Rabin’s story, Anthony Feinstein (pictured left) has written the first, authorized biography of this man who had such rare talent.

The following is an excerpt of Michael Rabin, America’s Virtuoso Violinist, recently revised and updated from Amadeus Press, written by Anthony Feinstein.

On August 7, 1950, Michael made his much-heralded appearance on the Telephone Hour’s tenth anniversary program, but not before special permission had been obtained from the local musicians’ union because of the soloist’s young age. He was accompanied by Donald Voorhees and the Bell Telephone Orchestra. “Michael borrowed a Guarnerius violin and played the Paganini Caprice No. 17 and the finale of the E Minor Violin Concerto by Mendelssohn, that standard testing piece of all violinists,” noted Newsweek:

 When his trial by air was over, Michael was tired. Nevertheless, by 7:30 the next morning he was out on the streets of New York with his shiny new bicycle, his current pride and joy. But like all good violinists, Michael is also a good table tennis player and is hoping someday to take on Jascha Heifetz, dean of ping-pong peddling fiddlers.

Michael did not have to wait long before meeting his idol, which took place on October 30. “Four o’clock today is H-hour for 14-year-old Michael Rabin, colorful young violinist,” wrote a columnist for the New York World Telegram and Sun:

 He will be photographed with Jascha Heifetz. The brilliant Mr. Heifetz is his idol and the extremely reticent Mr. H. has made the comment that with hard work the teenager has possibilities for the future, words that have Michael working harder than ever at his practice sessions. Today’s picture taking will be long remembered.

The photograph that was released shows Heifetz playing, Voorhees conducting, and in the bottom right hand corner, in profile, the face of young Michael, looking up at Heifetz, who towers physically and metaphorically above him. It was at this meeting that Heifetz — reserved, austere, a world removed from the effusive bear-hug embrace of Mischa Elman — autographed Michael’s score of the Bach sonatas and partitas. There were no encouraging remarks, no warm regards expressed — just the bare signature, “Heifetz.”

In Michael Rabin: America’s Virtuoso Violinist, Anthony Feinstein tells the poignant story of the life and career of one of history’s greatest violinists. As a child prodigy, Rabin had the classical music world at his feet. Notable successes included a coveted EMI contract, recording the soundtrack for an Elizabeth Taylor movie, and guest appearances on the Milton Berle Showand the Bell Telephone Hour.

Yet no sooner had Rabin taken his place alongside such illustrious colleagues as Heifetz, Milstein, and Stern than he abruptly and inexplicably disappeared from the concert stage. For three years, the public saw and heard little of him. In the mid-1960s, Rabin resurfaced and painstakingly began rebuilding a once-great career. Then one morning, the music world awoke to news of his sudden, mysterious death at age 35.

For the first edition of this biography, Feinstein had unprecedented access to Rabin’s private papers and medical history. Now he draws on additional material obtained from recent interviews with Rabin’s colleagues, girlfriends, and management. The result is an added appreciation of Rabin’s remarkable family, his cloistered upbringing, and a micromanaged career that ensured not only great success but also periods of deep despair. Michael Rabin: America’s Virtuoso Violinist is more than a story of a great violinist. It is also the moving account of a man of rare talent who never stopped battling to find personal happiness on that fragile journey from wunderkind to adulthood.

This book is available at Amazon, B&N, independent bookstores, and from Amadeus Press.