The Skirball Center has just opened "Leonard Bernstein at 100," celebrating the centennial of the man who, above all, helped the world understand and love music. All kinds of music. Listen to the audio player to hear Marc Haefele's review of the show, and watch these 5 videos before you check out the exhibit.
1. Marc starts his review of the Skirball exhibit talking about this video. "I first saw Lennie Bernstein in 1954," he writes, "on a somber Sunday TV show called Omnibus. Though he was in his 30s and I was 12, I instantly identified with him. He was another kid like me who loved Classical Music. He brought the musical skies down to Earth with what you might call Bernsteinese: Heavenly discourse with a Boston accent."
"I am amazed every time I look at this music all over again how simple and strong and right it is. … Every bar in this movement is based in one way or another directly on these four notes. Three G’s and an E-flat. What is it about these three Gs and an E-flat that are so pregnant and so meaningful that a whole symphonic movement can be born of them?"
-- Leonard Bernstein on "Omnibus"
2. As Duke Ellington - maybe Bernstein's chief rival for Musician of the Century - once said, "If it sounds good, it is good." Bernstein knew if he was to reach young people when he did the NY Phil's Young People Concerts (which he hosted from 1958 - 1972), he had to speak their language. So he played rock music for them. But it's obvious he dug the music himself.
3. A short excerpt from the Harvard lecture series Bernstein did called "The Unanswered Question." At the piano, he gives us the short history of music. Or as he puts it, "It's as if we could see the whole of music developing from prehistory to the present ... in two minutes." Okay, five minutes.
4. You don't even have to like Mahler to want to see Bernstein conduct a Mahler symphony. Watch him dance and sing while he rehearses the orchestra. The music runs through his veins.
5. The Berlin Wall, separating East and West Germany, fell in 1989, and Bernstein celebrated with two concerts. The first on Christmas Eve, 1989, in West Berlin, and the second on Christmas Day, 1989, in East Germany. The music was Beethoven's 9th Symphony, with the choral Ode to Joy changed to the Ode to Freedom. And at the 1-hour 25-minute mark, you can see Bernstein overwhelmed with joy and wiping his eyes ... as were many of the 100-million people who watched the televised concert in more than twenty countries around the world.
Bernstein was a lifelong smoker, and died from it less than ten months after the Berlin concerts.
As Marc Haefele writes, "To me, Bernstein still seemed young when he died in 1990 at the age of 72. Almost 30 years later, 72 seems tragically young for a man who was probably the greatest all-around American musician of the past century. Oscar Wilde said, 'What is true about music is true of all the arts. Beauty has as many meanings as man has moods.' And Leonard Bernstein was a man of many beauties.