“Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts Volume 2” (Kultur)
Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic hold a deservedly legendary place in the rather checkered history of classical music on television. They aired on CBS from 1958 to 1972, bringing the art form into living rooms around the country not through a kind of watered-down Music 101 but through an unabashedly high-minded, if still accessible, intertwining of narration and performance, an embrace of the elemental pleasures of musical curiosity, exploration, and discovery.
This new nine-disc set is the second and final volume of the concerts to appear on DVD, with 27 episodes in total. The titles alone hint that these discs have something to offer adult viewers as well: “The Road to Paris,” “Farewell to Nationalism,” “Bach Transmogrified,” “The Genius of Paul Hindemith” and so on.
But Bernstein also understood that young ears arrive with few of the repertoire prejudices that tend to calcify later in life, so his examples are bracingly wide-ranging. Who today would have the temerity, and the clout, to perform on national television the premiere of Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky’s Concerto for Tape Recorder and Orchestra? (“I warn you, it’s way out,” our intrepid host says. “It’s also pretty scary, but don’t be frightened by it. It’s only music.”)
Of course, several great landmarks of the symphonic repertoire are here too. And so are, scattered across a sub-series of Young Performers concerts, many appearances by barely recognizable baby-faced artists who, as it happens, share the names of classical music’s future stars. We watch a 26-year-old Seiji Ozawa (“I think he’s in for a brilliant future,” Bernstein opines), a 16-year-old cellist named Lynn Harrell (”He looks more like a football quarterback than a cellist”), and an Italian conductor (described as “our gifted young assistant”) who turns out to be Claudio Abbado. We also get Copland leading Copland, and Bernstein’s own tribute to his teacher Serge Koussevitzky.
It all plays today like some time capsule of music and charisma from a distant cultural moment, one that’s well worth the effort to dig up.