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Donald Macleod is joined by Bernstein protegée conductor Marin Alsop to look back at Bernstein’s hectic life as composer, pianist, thinker and entertainer.

There are no neutrals when it comes to Leonard Bernstein: exhibitionist, a playboy touring Italy in a Maserati, an exhilarating conductor, provocative thinker, ‘one of the most electrifying personalities of our time’. 2018 marks the centenary of this life-affirming composer who always preferred to call himself, simply, ‘musician’.

This week Donald Macleod is joined by Bernstein protegée, the conductor Marin Alsop, to look back at Bernstein’s hectic life as composer, pianist, thinker and entertainer. And, thanks to the BBC radio and TV archives, we hear from the man himself in interviews he gave through the course of his prolific career. We discover a man who was forceful in his views, passionate to the extreme, charismatic on the stage, but also latterly tormented by regrets and a feeling that he had never quite achieved the magnum opus inside him.

The musical West Side Story is a touch-stone. It defined Bernstein’s career but also offered a troubling insight into his personality as his ‘definitive’ recording fell short of his expectations before his eyes. Marin Alsop was there in the studio, thanks to her father who played violin on the recording and, thanks to her memories, we dig beneath the surface of Bernstein’s apparent petulance to discover the truth of a tormented man reaching the sunset of his career.

Bernstein was nothing if not a chameleon, and the week begins in the world of jazz which inspired much of Bernstein’s finest work. Drummer Buddy Rich gives us his take on West Side Story, and Bernstein proves that even the intense poetry WH Auden can swing if you try hard enough.

Enter Three Sailors (Fancy Free)
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
Leonard Bernstein, conductor

Prelude Fugue and Riffs
New York Philharmonic
Columbia Jazz Combo
Leonard Bernstein, conductor

The Lark (Latin Choruses)
The Sixteen
Harry Christophers, conductor

The Age of Anxiety (part 2)
New York Philharmonic
Lukas Foss, piano
Leonard Bernstein, conductor

arr. Buddy Rich: West Side Story
The Buddy Rich Orchestra

Producer: Michael Surcombe

57 minutes

Music Played

  • Leonard Bernstein

    Enter Three Sailors (Fancy Free)

    Orchestra: Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Conductor: Leonard Bernstein.
    • DG.
    • DG.
    • 7.
  • Leonard Bernstein

    Prelude, Fugue and Riffs

    Performer: Peter Schmidl. Conductor: Leonard Bernstein.
    • DG.
    • DG.
    • 10.
  • Leonard Bernstein

    The Lark for 7 voices

    Performer: The Sixteen. Conductor: Harry Christophers.
    • COLLINS : 1287-2.
    • COLLINS.
    • 12.
  • Leonard Bernstein

    The Age Of Anxiety: Part 2

    Performer: New York Philharmonic. Performer: Lukas Foss. Conductor: Leonard Bernstein.
    • 469 829-2 GB7.
    • Deutsche Grammophon.
    • 1.
  • Buddy Rich and his Big Band & Buddy Rich

    West Side Story (Jazz Arrangement)

    • PACIFIC JAZZ.
    • PACIFIC JAZZ.
    • 8.

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