|Galliner / AP|
From The Washington Post by Anne Midgette
Composer, conductor, activist, teacher, rule-breaker, American icon: Leonard Bernstein was a towering figure for the many American musicians who came in his turbulent wake. And yet, he was not an intimidating one.
“He built you up,” says John DeMain, who led the world premiere of “A Quiet Place,” Bernstein’s last opera, in 1983 at the Houston Grand Opera, where DeMain was for many years music director and principal conductor. “He made all of us exceed ourselves. He made me comfortable.”
Bernstein offered the classical music world a different model. An all-American artist, drawing on American vernaculars in his infectiously popular music, he was neither the impenetrable composer nor the forbidding conductor of which classical music stereotypes are made. His music leapt over genre divisions and, ultimately, helped stake out new terrain in the concert hall for Broadway and the American songbook.
But what may have endured most is the personality: the generous ebullience, the childlike delight in music and in himself that he evidenced when, DeMain remembers, he was writing the four interludes for “A Quiet Place,” bit by bit, and demanded that everyone come to his hotel, the Four Seasons, every day to hear the latest 16 bars of the score. Or when, after the first rehearsal, filled with glee at the sound of his own piece, he got DeMain in a headlock.
Leonard Bernstein would have been 100 years old next year, and this season marks the start of centennial observations all around the music world — including a Kennedy Center celebration, from the National Symphony Orchestra’s season-opening Bernstein program Sept. 24 to the Washington National Opera’s final opera of the season, “Candide.”