Leonard Bernstein: The personal demons and awesome talent of the composer who will be played by Bradley Cooper | Marie Claire

From Mia Kollia

THE his career was impressive and his contribution to art immeasurable, as he “knew” to the general public what classical music means. Music director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, composer of symphonies, choral works, works for ballet, musicals, as well as Oscar-winning soundtracks, such as for the film “The port of agony» (1954) of Elia Kazan, Leonard Bernstein was also a terrific pianist. A sharp orator with an incredible gift for communication, he was the originator of the live television programs through which an entire generation of Americans was introduced to music.

The impressive studies

Leonard Bernstein grew up in Boston in a Jewish family with no musical education. At the age of 10, an aunt gave him her piano and from then on he knew what he would do with his life, as he stated years later.

He attended the Boston Latin School, while as a teenager he occasionally played piano in jazz ensembles to supplement his music tuition. Although his father did not agree with the musical career his son wanted to pursue, he allowed him to study piano at Harvard. There Leonard was lucky enough to meet great musical personalities, among them the charismatic Greek conductor Dimitris Mitropoulos. Their meeting played a decisive role in his decision to become an orchestra conductor himself.

He was lucky enough to meet great musical personalities, among them the charismatic Greek conductor Dimitris Mitropoulos. Their meeting played a decisive role in his decision to become an orchestra conductor himself.

After graduating from HarvardBernstein was admitted to Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he excelled at the piano, while in the summer of 1940 he attended lessons at Tanglewood Music Centersummer base of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with its conductor as teacher, Serge Koussevitzkywho became his mentor.

Left: Leonard Bernstein poses in front of his piano at his home in Fairfield (1986). Right: Rehearsing with Benny Goodman (circa 1940-1949).

Immediate recognition

The position that changed his life was that of assistant conductor at Philharmonic orchestra her New Yorkin August 1943. Within a year and a half of his hiring he had already become famous, while a few months later the golden opportunity came: he had to replace at the last minute its manager, Bruno Walter, on his podium Carnegie Hall, due to illness, in a concert that was to be broadcast across America. Since then, many great collaboration proposals have followed.

The difficult love

In 1953, Bernstein directed the “Medea» his Luigi Cherubini at the theatre La Scala of Milan, starring Maria Callas, making History, since he was the first American conductor to set foot on the podium of the most famous Opera House in the world. Two years later he will meet again with Callas in the same theater, this time to direct her in “Sleepwalker» his Bellini (1955).

In 1953, Bernstein conducted Luigi Cherubini’s Medea at Milan’s La Scala, starring Maria Callas, making history as the first American conductor to set foot on the podium of the most famous Opera House

During this period, Bernstein married the Chilean actress Felicia Montealegre. Their relationship was stormy, adventurous, cinematic. From their first meeting in 1946, two broken engagements, marriage and the birth of three children, thirty years of companionship interspersed, even as Bernstein struggled with his sexuality throughout that time. Shortly after their marriage, Felicia wrote to him “…you’re gay and that’s never going to change…I’m willing to accept you as you are“, as we learn from the book “The Leonard Bernstein Letters” (2013). In the new movie “Maestro» (Netflix) o Bradley Cooper embodies Bernstein’s mythic personality co-starring her Carey Mulliganwho plays his wife.

From bottom left and clockwise: Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in ‘Maestro’. Leonard Bernstein succeeds Dimitris Mitropoulos at the New York Philharmonic. Mr. and Mrs. Samuel J. Bernsteins proudly embrace their son, Leonard, after his first concert as conductor of the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall. Bernstein and his wife sit down at the two spinet pianos to play a Bach sonata. GETTY IMAGES / IDEAL IMAGE

The internal conflicts in his personal life did not prevent Bernstein from excelling artistically: from 1958 to 1969 he was the principal musician of the famous New York Philharmonic Orchestra, contributing to the significant renewal of its repertoire, while composing symphonic music, ballet music, but and music for stage musicals and motion pictures. The work that put the composer’s name in the hearts of theatergoers and cinephiles everywhere was “West Side Story». The musical was transferred in 1961 to the cinema and became known all over the world. The film triumphed at the Oscars by attracting attention 10 from 11 awards for which he had been nominated.
Any great work of art that revives and realigns time and space has as a measure of its success the extent to which it makes you an inhabitant of that world, invites you in, and lets you breathe its strange, special air– Bernstein has characteristically said.

From their first meeting in 1946, two broken engagements, marriage and the birth of three children, thirty years of companionship interspersed, even as Bernstein struggled with his sexuality throughout that time.

Through the eyes of his daughter, Jamie

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth (in August 25, 1918) of her father, his daughter, Jamiepublished in 2018 the book “Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein“, where she recounts his family life and her constant battle to stand up under the blinding light of this domineering father. In an interview she has said, among other things: “He was exuberant and sweeping. He couldn’t do otherwise. He liked to talk a lot and analyze for hours, he had an opinion on everything and was domineering. He struggled for years with his personal demons, a self-flagellation from which he suffered greatly – but I think that happens to artists. Many times it was as if he was losing his faith, faith as a concept in general, but also in his marriage, since he was bisexual. I believe that these conflicting feelings caused him constant anxiety. But what to do? Indeed his aura was extremely amorous. Just like his music was to him like making love».

From bottom left and right: Leonard Bernstein with Barbra Streisand at Eugene McCarthy’s campaign rally at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel (New York, 1968). At the piano, he conducts a group of musicians during a rehearsal. Rita Moreno in a scene from “West Side Story” (1961), the legendary musical that made Bernstein world famous and won 10 Oscars. In his first rehearsal with Callas (La Scala, 1953). GETTY IMAGES/IDEAL IMAGE

Greece and world peace

Our country also has moments to remember from his presence when the 1985 the Peace and Friendship Stadium hosted a concert by the leading music composer. Bernstein, a guest of his girlfriend Melina Merkourihad appeared at a peace concert where he also conducted his own “Agreement No. 3 Kaddish». It was a composition inspired by the Jewish prayer (Kaddish), the memorial prayer for the dead. After all, his concern for world peace was proverbial. He had already described his vision for the harmony of peoples in 1980 in a speech at Johns Hopkins University and in 1983 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York.

In 1985, the Peace and Friendship Stadium hosted a concert by the leading music composer. Bernstein, a guest of his girlfriend Melina Mercouri, had appeared at a peace concert

Some of his words from Hopkins capture his philosophy: “I am an artist and I will say that we do not allow our imagination to flourish. The fantasies we live are still those old ones of the primitive race that spring from greed, the lust for power. We desperately need to cultivate new visions that can make this earth safe, that will ensure the rule of reason, that will work for a morally functioning world instead of a destructive one. We are repeatedly told that there is enough food in the world to feed 20 times more people, that there is enough water to irrigate deserts. So why do people sink again and again? Just think that if we used the power of our imagination – which now deals only with power games – in another direction, towards disarmament of all nature, what miracles we would achieve, what new truths we would face and how many incredible beauties we would discover!».

Leonard Bernstein passed away the 1990 at the age of 72. However, his musical legacy will permeate movie theaters and theater stages for many decades to come.

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