A look back at Leonard Bernstein: superhero of an era that has passed

Posted on: September 12, 2018

“Worldwide celebrations of the hundredth birthday of Leonard Bernstein, which fell on August 25th, have touted the man as a kind of musical superhero, who conquered every medium he touched: conducting, composing, Broadway shows, education, television, the intricate game of American celebrity,” writes Alex Ross in the 9/17 New Yorker. “He is venerated … as the Great Communicator, who thrust the symphonic repertory into the national conversation…. His charisma was indeed potent, but … he seems more a product of his time than an agent of transformation. He came of age in the New Deal era, when the federal government sank hundreds of millions of dollars into the arts. He benefitted from the cultural politics of the Cold War, even as he suffered under McCarthyism. He launched music-appreciation projects on television at a time when network executives considered Stravinsky’s serialist score ‘The Flood,’ with choreography by Balanchine, suitable for a mass public. The aspirational America of the mid-twentieth century was looking for a Bernstein—a native genius who could knock off Broadway tunes as fluently as he conducted Brahms—and one was duly found. There will not be another, not because talent is lacking but because the culture that fostered him is gone.”

Posted September 12, 2018