Kultur’s first boxed set of Leonard Bernstein’s Young People's Concerts was the most eagerly awaited DVD release in Classical Music’s history. The set has sold many tens of thousands of copies and continues to be extremely popular.
Now Kultur introduces the magnificent second volume of the Concerts, featuring 27 programs on nine DVDs and completing the series. Bernstein’s wonderful combination of exceptional performances and clear, inspirational lecture superbly convey his own excitement about music. This beautiful new set will create further enthusiasm for the genre among young and old music lovers alike.
In 1962, the Young People's Concerts became the first series of concerts ever televised from LincolnRead more Center. All of them were telecast on CBS at prime time, and syndicated in over 40 countries, introducing an entire generation to the joys of classical music.
R E V I E W: 3764400.zz6_LEONARD_BERNSTEIN_S_YOUNG.html LEONARD BERNSTEIN’S YOUNG PEOPLE’S CONCERTS, VOL. 2 • Leonard Bernstein, cond; New York PO • KULTUR 4370 (9 DVDs: 23:00: 00)
Disc 1: Young Performers No. 1 (3/6/60). PROKOFIEV Peter and the Wolf. Unusual Instruments of the Past, Present, and Future (3/27/60). GABRIELI Canzone for 8 Brass Instruments. Overture and Preludes (1/8/61): ROSSINI Semiramide: Overture. BEETHOVEN Leonore Overture No. 3. DEBUSSY Prelude â l’après-midi d’un faune. BERNSTEIN Candide: Overture
Disc 2: Aaron Copland Birthday Party (2/12/61): COPLAND An Outdoor Overture. El salón México (Aaron Copland, cond). Young Performers No. 2 (3/19/61). BRITTEN. The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. The Road to Paris (1/18/62): GERSHWIN An American in Paris. BLOCH Schelomo (Zara Nelsova, vc)
Disc 3: Young Performers No. 3 (4/14/62). SAINT-SAËNS Carnival of the Animals. The Sound of a Hall (11/21/62). BERLIOZ Roman Carnival Overture. TCHAIKOVKY 1812 Overture. Young Peformers No. 4 (1/15/63). LISZT Piano Concerto No. 1 (André Watts, pn)
Disc 4: A Tribute to Teachers (11/29/63). MUSSORGKY Khovanshchina: Prelude. PISTON The Incredible Flutist: Suite. BRAHMS Academic Festival Overture. Young Performers No. 5 (12/23/63). ROSSINI William Tell: Overture. The Genius of Paul Hindemith (2/23/64). HINDEMITH Symphony “Mathis der Maler”
Disc 5: Farewell to Nationalism (11/30/64). GLIÈRE Russian Sailors’ Dance. IVES The Fourth of July. SMETANA The Moldau. Young Performers No. 6 (1/28/65). RAVEL Mother Goose Suite. Young Performers No. 7 (2/22/66)
Disc 6: Young Performers No. 8 (2/27/67). Charles Ives: American Pioneer (2/23/67). IVES The Gong on the Hook and Ladder. Washington’s Birthday. March: The Circus Band. The Unanswered Question. Alumni Reunion (1/15/63). TCHAIKOVSKY Variations on a Rococo Theme (Stephen Kates, vc)
Disc 7: Forever Beethoven (1/28/68). BEETHOVEN Leonore Overture No. 3. Young Performers No. 9 (3/31/68). Fantastic Variations (12/25/68)
Disc 8: Bach Transmogrified (4/27/69). The Anatomy of a Symphony Orchestra (5/24/70). RESPIGHI The Pines of Rome. A Copland Celebration (12/27/70). COPLAND Concerto for Clarinet and Strings (Stanley Drucker, cl). Billy the Kid: Suite
Disc 9: Thus Spake Richard Strauss (11/4/71). Liszt and the Devil (2/13/72). Holst: The Planets (3/26/72)
From 1958 to 1972, Leonard Bernstein led 53 programs of Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic. All were televised nationally on CBS—and then internationally, to further acclaim; they won every conceivable award. Watched by millions, they were collectively the major musical event on television, at that time and for all time. Some were broadcast live, some were taped; late in the series, each concert was repeated, and a few were also given on tour. Twenty five of the programs were eventually issued on Sony VHS tapes and then on Kultur DVDs. My review of those DVDs begins on page 62 of Fanfare 28:4. I refer you to it for the history of the Young People’s Concerts.
Now here are 27 more programs in that series (the missing one is Copland’s The Second Hurricane, April 23, 1960). Each program, almost completely shorn of commercials, runs about 50 minutes. Dates in the headnotes are of broadcasts; nine of the programs had been prerecorded. Only works conducted by Bernstein played in their entirety are listed in the headnote; many other works, movements, and fragments are played. There is no room to mention them all, even in the text of this review. Nine of these concerts presented young, little-known performers, playing mostly standard repertory—usually single concerto movements, although Bernstein also slips in Peter and the Wolf and The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by featuring young narrators, and Carnival of the Animals without Ogden Nash’s verses. These teenagers are all technically accomplished, but many of their performances are routine; an 11-year-old violinist goes through the motions of a Wieniawski concerto movement, hitting all the correct notes but not producing much music. The interest today is to see who was a superstar in waiting and who would be less fortunate in his or her career. One can’t measure the results by numbers—there are infinite gradations of success, and a young clarinetist or percussionist cannot expect the fame of a violinist. Among those who became stars are cellist Lynn Harrell, flutist Paula Robison, pianist André Watts, violinist Elmar Oliveira, and double bassist Gary Karr. Most of the works played by the youngsters are conducted by Philharmonic assistant conductors (three per year in Bernstein’s era); Seiji Ozawa, Claudio Abbado, Zdenek Kosler, James DePriest, and Edo de Waart among them.
“Unusual Instruments of the Past, Present, and Future” is a hodgepodge of miscellany, not very well planned or written. The Gabrieli is played by four ancient brass instruments and four modern ones. Not mentioned in the headnote is a Concerto for Tape Recorder and Orchestra by Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky, plus a kazoo concerto by Mark Bucci.
“The Sound of a Hall” is the first Young People’s Concert in Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall). Bernstein rambles on about acoustics; simplistic and boring at first, the talk becomes fascinating as he describes the hall’s “tuning week” in May 1962, long before its September opening. He is his dazzling self as narrator of the “Tango” movement of the Sitwell/Walton Façade.
In the fourth Young Performers Concert, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 is played by three pianists with three conductors. Two young girls play the first two movements well, and then Pamela Paul lights up the Allegro assai with life and spirit. André Watts gives a sensational performance of Liszt’s First Concerto, far wilder—if less note-perfect—than his later recording with Bernstein.
In “A Tribute to Teachers,” Bernstein leads music associated with some of his own teachers: Serge Koussevitzky, Randall Thompson (the gorgeous scherzo of his Second Symphony), Walter Piston, and Fritz Reiner. Bernstein’s text for this program and his delivery of it are masterpieces of sincerity, honoring all teachers of every subject. The fifth Young Performers concert features a master harpist, 14-year-old Heidi Lehwalder, playing Handel and Ravel. Shulamit Ran, 16, plays the world premiere of her Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra.
In the review of the earlier set, I regretted the absence of the program on Hindemith, for its magnificent performance of the “Mathis der Maler” Symphony. It is not quite as I had remembered it from television half a century ago—almost to the day. It is a wildly dramatic performance, and much of the slow, quiet music in the “Temptation of St Anthony” finale is ethereally beautiful, but the recorded sound is fuzzy, with a few momentary dropouts. (Probably the master tape suffered some deterioration over those 50 years—I know I have.) These early 1960s concerts include much dazzling solo work from the Philharmonic’s great first chair woodwinds: John Wummer, Harold Gomberg, Stanley Drucker, and Manuel Zegler; they are joined by James Chambers in the first movement of Kleine Kammermusik.
“Farewell to Nationalism” includes brief excerpts of many pieces. Bernstein doesn’t seem to know exactly what his point is, and he becomes repetitious. The video is blurry, but there is some fine music-making. In general, assistant conductors accompany soloists; Bernstein does so only for those he thinks are extraordinary. In the sixth Young Performers session, he praises 15-year-old Patricia Michaelian (a pupil of Adolph Baller, a Menuhin duo partner) above all his other guest pianists. Bernstein leads a brash, fast opening Allegro of Mozart’s D-Minor Concerto; Michaelian counters with the loveliest performance imaginable; she has the feel for this music of Rudolf Serkin, the round, pearly tones of Artur Rubinstein, the ability to make every note count of Leon Fleisher, and the note-perfect panache of Youri Egorov. I have just listened to Serkin/Szell and Egorov/Sawallisch in this movement; Michaelian makes Serkin sound awkward by comparison and Egorov uninvolved. She would tour four continents as recitalist and concerto soloist, and she was a member of the piano faculty at the University of Washington from 1984 to 2012, but she has made few recordings. Bernstein then leads violinist James Buswell in the first movement of the Mendelssohn Concerto. No women have appeared in the Philharmonic yet—we see wave after wave of shining bald pates; bassist Oren O’Brien would join in 1966. Violinist Sanford Allen, the first African-American member, had joined in 1961.
The seventh Young Performers concert parcels out about half of Pictures at an Exhibition to four pianists and then repeats each section in Ravel’s orchestration, led by four conductors, including Bernstein. The eighth one presents four more youngsters in Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante, led by two assistant conductors. The hour’s highlight is a glowing rendition of the opening movement of Saint-Saëns’s Third Violin Concerto by Young Uck Kim, accompanied by Bernstein. The 1967 Ives celebration is notable for Bernstein’s attitude about Ives’s music: He speaks to the kids about it as if it and he and they were all old friends (despite claiming that this is the concert-hall premiere of The Gong).
“Alumni Reunion” welcomes back previous guests who have triumphed worldwide: Stephen Kates and Veronica Tyler, now Tchaikovsky Competition winners, and André Watts. Bernstein’s tributes to them again ring with sincerity. Tyler sings “Mi chiamano Mimì” and “My Man’s Gone Now.” Watts and Bernstein give a vivid, emotional account of the first movement of Brahms’s B? Concerto; both are a bit over-the-top, but it is thrilling. The usually conservative audience goes wild; it has found its hero. All the pianists in this series play the Philharmonic’s Baldwin piano. It is a magnificent instrument, and CBS’s recordings reproduce it well; the orchestra is less fortunate.
Bernstein and the Philharmonic were always excellent in Beethoven. His script for “Forever Beethoven,” which tries to explain why that “short, stubby fellow” is unique, is superb, even though it wanders into philosophy and to the edge of politics. The first movement of the Fifth Symphony and the Leonore Overture No. 3 go swimmingly, but a young pianist and an assistant conductor don’t quite catch the spirit of the Fourth Concerto’s final movements. “Young Performers No. 9” opens with 14-year-old Lawrence Foster (no relation to the conductor of the same name) playing a credible Saint-Saëns A-Minor Cello Concerto under Alois Springer, a rare complete work by a young performer with an assistant conductor. Foster would win fame but died at 26, murdered by a car thief. The meat of the program is Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes of Carl Maria von Weber. Young guests play Weber’s original four-hand piano music and the Philharmonic follows with Hindemith’s metamorphosis, movement by movement. It’s a great idea for a program, spoiled slightly by having to omit the Andantino due to time constraints (he conducts the Allegro and “Marsch”; Helen Quach leads the “Turandot Scherzo”). Bernstein makes a miscalculation by talking between the Weber and Hindemith versions of each movement; we lose the music’s thread as well as the Andantino. Color television has finally become clear, and the orchestral sound has much improved (Columbia Records’ John McClure was “Music Coordinator” for the series; Thomas Z. Sheppard took over for the final two concerts). “Fantastic Variations” treats Strauss’s Don Quixote the same way, presenting only the first seven of its 13 variations.
“Bach Transmogrified” is another brilliant script, bursting with surprises. The “Little” Fugue in G Minor is played on an electronic organ (CBS’s camera shots are contrived to make part of Philharmonic Hall’s architecture look like gigantic organ pipes). Bernstein then talks about Stokowski’s transcription, ending with: “Here it is now [pause, as if turning to the orchestra]. Of course, ideally, a Stokowski transcription should be conducted by Stokowski himself, and—guess what!—we have been lucky enough to persuade the great maestro to come and conduct it for us in person.” The 87-year-old Stokowski strides on stage and does his stuff. Then five stagehands roll in the Moog Synthesizer, and it too plays the G-Minor Fugue. The E-Minor Partita is treated to a similar fate: Bernstein has to stop concertmaster David Nadien’s performance in the middle and goes on with an abbreviated version of Lukas Foss’s Phorion (“a Greek word meaning stolen goods”), which honors and destroys the Partita. The first movement of the Fifth Brandenburg is played by Nadien, flutist Julius Baker, Bernstein, and a dozen strings, and then turned over to the New York Rock and Roll Ensemble. (“It’s going to be fun, and—who knows—it may even be beautiful.”) They turn it into a song, “Life Goes On,” but with a fine oboist and cellist as well as electronic guitars, electronic keyboard, and drum kit. The final surprise is that they get only polite applause, whereas Stokowski was cheered enthusiastically.
Bernstein retired as the Philharmonic’s musical director at the end of the 1968/69 season. He was named laureate conductor and continued to lead Young People’s Concerts, but he may have had less time to create his scripts, as most of the remaining programs have a common denominator: A single work is examined and played, usually in incomplete form. His teaching remains fascinating, but the scripts are less imaginative. There are no more Young Performers, concerts which must have taken a great deal of time for auditions and rehearsals.
For “The Anatomy of a Symphony Orchestra,” Bernstein describes almost every instrument (a few exotic percussion are ignored) and has the orchestra demonstrate brief samples, individually and in combination. Then he dissects The Pines of Rome, one movement at a time, followed by a complete, uninterrupted performance. “A Copland Celebration” uses the clarinet concerto to demonstrate the composer’s jazzy, urban style and Billy the Kid his contrasting Western open-spaces side. Stanley Drucker plays one of the 55 performances of the concerto that he gave with the Philharmonic; Benny Goodman (the work’s dedicatee) played the Philharmonic premiere in 1969; Drucker then had the piece to himself for 40 years.
In “Thus Spake Richard Strauss,” Bernstein leaves out the “Dirge” section of Also sprach Zarathustra, which must be due to more than just time constraints, as these programs are planned to the second. Cynics will say that Bernstein liked to talk too much, but the real question is why he chose this, the most esoteric of Strauss tone poems, to explain to the kids—and he has to tread carefully in explaining “Of Joys and Passions.” These concerts often included works the Philharmonic had just recorded, but it had been over a year since its Zarathustra recording. “Liszt and the Devil” asks the question: Why are so few works of such an influential, world-famous composer known? Bernstein labels the Faust Symphony Liszt’s greatest work and proceeds to explore it, again playing only substantial excerpts. In the final program, we get five of Holst’s seven Planets, excluding the two slow movements, “Saturn” and “Neptune.” Then Bernstein and the Philharmonic improvise on the farthest planet, “Pluto,” which had not been discovered when Holst wrote his music. It is pleasant, amusing chaos. The sound of this final program is somewhat muffled.
Bernstein chose 25 Young People’s Concerts to preserve in book form, and they make up the first set of DVDs. He knew best; they achieve high standards of teaching and of performance that are not always met here. At least a dozen of these are of equal interest, however; the young performers are worth hearing and seeing, and there is some magnificent music making. Above all, I remain awed by Patricia Michaelian’s Mozart. This representation of American television’s finest musical series belongs in every collection.
New York Philharmonic
Young People's Concerts - (Lectures)by Leonard Bernstein
New York Philharmonic
Period: 20th Century Written: USA Date of Recording: 1958 - 1973
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Young People's Concerts, Vol 2November 8, 2013By Michael Nystrom (Aloha, OR)See All My Reviews"I am pleased that this set of Young People's Concerts include the Young Performers' Concerts. Our local classical radio station has just begun a weekly program that features young musicians from our Portland, OR area, which is a close kin to these exposures to the national/international talent that existed in the 1960's, including the late James DePreist, former conductor of the Oregon Symphony. I also appreciate Mr. Bernstein focusing on not-so-famous composers like Paul Hindemith and Charles Ives. On the minus side, the quality video reproduction is a bit inferior to the quality of the Vol. 1 set. If you can overlook that negative feature, then you should serious consider obtaining this set of DVD's, especially if you own the Vol. 1 set."Report Abuse