Bernstein, A Renaissance Man

Leonard Bernstein conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall, 6/24/88 (photo credit: Steve J Sherman)

The Central City Library is my second home. Often I will take Ethan with me as we’re both avid readers and we stock up on books for the week. On our last visit, I stumbled upon a book titled “Leonard Bernstein at Work: His Final Years, 1984-1990”, containing original photographs by Steve Sherman.

I am not sure what drew me to the book, but after the first turn I knew it was going to be hard to put it down. I love this book and the photographs, but moreover the man himself. Bernstein, ‘a mensch’ as he has been described, gave everything he had to his work. The book contains passages and quotes from the people that knew Bernstein and were moved by him and his insatiable charisma.

Already a familiar name in music as the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein rose to stardom in late 1950’s after composing the original soundtrack for West Side Story – a very New York theatrical play. He rarely slept, he poured all his time into perfecting his craft. But he was more than a conductor, the man spoke many languages, he played the piano, and he had his own TV show teaching the younger audience and influencing thousands or more. He was an activist, a poet, a writer, and he made everyone feel loved.

He wasn’t without his flaws of course, but his heart was as big as the sun and it shone on everyone that came into contact with him.

It’s the artists of the world, the feelers and the thinkers, who will ultimately save us, who can articulate, educate, defy, insist, sing and shout the big dreams. Only the artists can turn the ‘Not-Yet’ into reality… And there’s no time to lose.. You’ve got to work fast, but not in a hurry. You’ve got to be patient, but not passive. You’ve got to recognise the hope that exists in you, but not let impatience turn it into despair… And out of this paradox you have to produce the brilliant synthesis… It is you who must produce it, with your new atomic minds, your flaming, angry hope, and your secret weapon of art.”

– Leonard Bernstein

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