In the beautiful New England spring of 1972, I appeared as the Street Singer in a production of The Three Penny Opera produced by a friend at Adam's House at Harvard. At the same time Leonard Bernstein was giving a series of lectures at his Alama Mater – The Unanswered Question. Always absorbing & frequently brilliant, Leonard Bernstein's The Unanswered Question were comprehensible & persuasive discussions of music's history & forms, with particular emphasis modern music. He addressed the average intelligent listener who is not musically trained but wants to know what makes music work & what is meant, for example, by "tonal" & "atonal."
It required some concentration, but Bernstein, a superb teacher, kept technical terms to a minimum, illustrating what he meant with musical examples. I was lucky enough to go to 3 of the 6 lectures, being invited by the maestro after he thrillingly talked to me & gave me advice about singing Kurt Weill’s songs in TheThree Penny Opera when he attended a dress rehearsal of our production.
I already understood his place in music history, especially for his music for West Side Story, On The Town, Wonderful Town & Candide. I didn’t expect to find him so totally sexy & hot, but then, I often find men who are supremely talented to be sexy. I love Jewish men, especially charismatic, one of a kind major 20th century talents, with a flowing mane of hair & the ability to look me in the eye & touch my hand while telling me what he thought I was getting right & what I was missing in my performance. I went home that night simply swooning & with dreams of being the lover of one of history’s most important musical figures.
He may well be more famous among the general public than any other conductor before or since. He wrote 3 symphonies, 2 operas, 5 musicals, a mass, & numerous other pieces. Throughout the 1960s, 1970s & 1980s, Leonard Bernstein was undoubtedly the most visible proponent of classical music in American culture. Through his outgoing personality & resourceful uses of the media, particularly TV, Bernstein introduced 'highbrow' culture into the homes of middle America, while also defending rock & roll as 'real' music & supporting radical causes.
In spite of Bernstein's speaking out for unpopular causes, he was outspoken on civil rights & Vietnam, he was, for much of his career, unwilling to risk exposure of his homosexuality. Indeed, the social mores of the 1950s & 1960s meant that revealing his homosexuality would undoubtedly have destroyed the celebrity & influence he had attained. Later in life & after the death of his wife in 1978, Bernstein became quite open about his being gay.
He left behind an unprecedented amount of recordings & videos, leaving us with a legacy to be experienced for generations to come, & the memory of one 19 year old boy who melted at having been in his presence. My crush on him never diminished. He was born 93 years ago today.