© 2022 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Leonard Slatkin’s Top 5 for Bernstein’s 100th

Jamie Paisley
WKAR's Jamie Paisley and Maestro Leonard Slatkin

August 25th, 2018 marks 100 years since the birth of composer, conductor, and great communicator of music, Leonard Bernstein. So, WKAR checked in with Leonard Slatkin, recently retired music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and asked what the most important works of his friend Leonard Bernstein were. His answers went much deeper than West Side Story or Candide.

If you want to get to know Leonard Bernstein, there are 5 works that you should listen to, because even though they are different, essentially they are Bernstein's autobiography in music. They're the three symphonies, the first of which is Jeremiah dedicated to his father showing his religious heritage. The Second Symphony: The Age of Anxiety, which is all about the alienation and how people are different, and he certainly felt himself being different, spending a lot of time trying to fit in or at least have people follow him. The third is Kaddish, which is the Jewish prayer for the dead that's recited, but it's more about Bernstein's continual struggle with his own identity, coming to grips with his homosexuality and all these things that caused him grief and trouble. After that comes the Mass which is once again a piece about the questioning of God and his faith; how do we believe in a God with so much cruelty and horrible things are occurring in the world. The Mass is Bernstein's kind of reaching out to the eclectic nature of the 60's, for the opening of Kennedy Center, and Jackie Onassis was there and it created quite a stir because it

... [Mass] had a rock band in it and those quadraphonic sound stuff going on. I mean it was really 60's, really 60's! - Leonard Slatkin

had a rock band in it and those quadraphonic sound stuff going on. I mean it was really 60's, really 60's! And lastly there's Songfest, which is dedicated to his mother. It takes poetry by thirteen different writers and each of these poets that he selected and their poems reflect some aspect of Bernstein's own life including his embracing of social causes. So those 5 pieces give you a very good idea about who Leonard Bernstein was. Because now, we're close to two generations who really never knew him, only know the name, maybe saw it on a video tape. So that would be my advice for people.

Related Content
News from WKAR will never be behind a paywall. Ever. We need your help to keep our coverage free for everyone. Please consider supporting the news you rely on with a donation today. You can support our journalism for as little as $5. Every contribution, no matter the size, propels our vital coverage. Thank you.