36 Years Ago

36 Years Ago, Vienna 1971—A Student Journal

Day 267: Partying with Bernstein


Vienna 1971—A Student Journal
A year of music, study, travel, sightseeing & friends.

Day 267 — Partying with Bernstein
25-April-1972 (Dienstag–Tue.)


Bernstein 1972 in Vienna

An extremely interesting day. Practiced in the morning and did nothing.

At 3:00 a re-do of Mahler’s 5th again. For free, and I found a good seat in the third row, with a good angle of him [Bernstein]. The music went extremely well today, and I did enjoy it immensely.

Afterwards, went with Mike and Tom to room—ate dinner (sandwiches) and then, at night, a group of a few other students (Tom also) were invited to a party with Him, himself. It was very interesting and enjoyable. I think I learned something about him.

First, we got there and had wine, and waited for Len. When he came, it began.

We listened to his
Mass, first time I heard it. On first impression, I would say it’s very Bernstein (similarities to other works: hand clapping, rhythms, bass activities). It is certainly very pop orientated. In certain sections, it was much different, and for me, much more musical (not just popular). Mr. Bernstein was in the typical what-would-a-composer-do-while-his-piece-was-played position, I would expect. Leaning back (almost lying down), sometimes with his hands over his face and sometimes yelling out a line. Basically, very Romantic. I realize I’m being slightly skeptical—but I am not disturbed too much because it is not on an extreme level.

He spent most of the time with us students even though there were other guests. He preferred us students who were swallowing every word and lying at his feet.

We had a discussion after the
Mass. Unfortunately, it never reached a very interesting and useful level.

Instead, there was much “philosophism.” It didn’t bother me too much that he considered his work a great work (and himself a great artist)—which
could be, and leans towards is, true. But it bothered me that everything else was “_____” compared to his stuff. Well!

One of the students started doing great imitations of opera singers—and it broke us up. Bernstein played at the piano. (He knows a lot about music.) He can play the piano, modulate—all easily.

Then the party died away slowly. Lenny smoked but ended up coughing. He enjoyed the students’ company, which is a good feeling. I asked him about Phi Mu Alpha (our music fraternity), and he said he never heard of it.

At 2:00 am in the freezing night, it took me one hour to walk home.

On Leonard Bernstein

I think that he is sincere in his music and beliefs, which justifies his actions—conducting. But after seeing more of him, I can’t help but feel that some of his showmanship must penetrate his music and conducting (not in a sincere way, but as show), because this force is very big and strong in him. He is a very friendly and nice person—but always with some of the “I am Leonard Bernstein” attitude. And, of course, he likes being the center of attraction. He does not do all these things too obnoxiously and I certainly enjoyed his company.

It is just that I now realize that he is not a God, but a very fine artist. I am always more critical in a situation like this because, then, I do not have to swallow all of the surface material and crap that is shoveled out, and instead I can look more deeply into what counts—the music. And try to see if it works and is good, rather than be told it simply is good.


Minor novella. Wow, today’s post is almost a small novel. Why? Because I am meeting, up close and in person, Leonard Bernstein, in the context of a social party. I’m partying with Bernstein. Well, I was sitting there.

Bernstein. First, let’s get this straight. I love Bernstein, his conducting, recordings, musical interpretations, and his music. He is undoubtedly one of the twentieth century’s finest conductor’s. He has conducted most of the world’s top orchestras and his interpretations are legendary. As a composer, his music stands the test of time and places him in the top genre of American composers. Bernstein is the Maestro. Bernstein is a composer.

Who am I? Second, let’s get this straight—who am I, in comparison? I am NOT a true composer. If I were, I would be writing music every day of my life. Although, I wrote serious music as a student in universities, I didn’t continue. What did I write? A lot of pop and commercial music, hundreds within various time slots. I like what I write—but a true composer, I am NOT. (I wish I were.)

I am NOT a world-class conductor either. I conducted band, orchestra, and jazz band for six years
as a junior-high school teacher. It was fun, and enjoyable. Can I conduct the New York Philharmonic? Sure. With artistry? No—well, maybe a little bit. Could I pass the extreme rigors that conductors must endure in school to earn the right-of-passage to conduct professional orchestras? Can I sight-read full, complex orchestral scores at the piano? Hear and analyze new contemporary music and then conduct it? Never, it is of extreme difficulty. Conductors deserve their due as well.

So, that’s how Leonard Bernstein and I compare. Keep that in mind when you read my criticisms in my journal.

Thoughts. Looking back at my journal, I know that it is the first time I have ever been in the company of a true world-class artist, and seeing their personality up-close. What was I expecting? That Bernstein would be shy? Not be aware of his accomplishments and talents? That he would not have an ego? Was I upset that he was even a showman at a small, intimate party? Give him his due—Bernstein deserves his credits and accomplishments. He is a natural showman, but sincere in his actions. He is world-class as a conductor and composer.

As always, I believe my youthful criticisms are not as important as one believed them to be when I was youthful and displaying those criticisms—getting older and its accompanying maturity brings about a better balance of criticism. Interestingly, I remember asking Bernstein a question about why he did something musically in the
Mass and I did not getting a satisfying answer.

Bernstein was friendly. All in all, the evening with Bernstein was a pleasant experience. He was friendly and a gentleman. His get-together with us students was good for him and for us. It was an honor to be in his presence.

Oh, and as always, my invitation to this party was through my friend, Mike. Mike was connected. I was not.


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