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August 25, 2009

A birthday commemoration of Leonard Bernstein

Can't let this day go by without a salute to Leonard Bernstein, born Aug. 25, 1918.

The conductor/composer set off wonderful sparks like no one before him, or since. He could achieve magic on the podium, generating performances that took the listener to new, unexpected heights and often into unusually deep emotional territory. His death -- Oct. 14, 1990 -- came much too soon.

I picked just a couple examples of Bernstein's brilliance on the podium as a little tribute, starting with a sublime performance of Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus" (few conductors could make such a slow tempo sound perfectly right) and closing with a dynamite excerpt from the finale of Tchaikovsky's Fifth (here, you get the deliciously fast and arrestingly slow side of Bernstein's style all in one clip):

Posted by Tim Smith at 12:06 PM | | Comments (1)


Yeah, Lenny could be a glacier _and_ a fireball, and he usually made complete sense in either case, even in music that many do not consider to be his absolute forte. (He certainly never bored _me_!) One thing's for sure: he brought a _tremendous_ amount of character to his interpretations. While we have a large recorded legacy, I definitely miss him.

(He also never talked _down_ to people when explaining music.)

Speaking of dynamic interpreters, I'm currently listening to the newly-released Bruckner cycle from Volkmar Andreae on Music & Arts (recorded in 1953), and I _must_ say that this is a _major_ reissue! Talk about loads of verve and character -- this man was, without question, a master Brucknerian, and these recordings are full of _very_ distinctive touches (Andreae was influenced by "early" Bruckner performance practice, so to speak). In short, this isn't your father's Bruckner, nor your grandfather's -- it's your great-grandfather's Bruckner, and my, oh my, is it positively _alive_! I've listened to 4-9 so far, and this man could give Furtwängler a serious run for his money...

Thanks for the report on the Bruckner recordings, which I do not know. One more discovery I'll have to make. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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