Leonard Bernstein & The Boston Symphony Orchestra – The Final Concert (1992)

.FrontCover1Leonard Bernstein ( August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American conductor, composer, pianist, music educator, author, and humanitarian. Considered to be one of the most important conductors of his time, he was the first American conductor to receive international acclaim. According to music critic Donal Henahan, he was “one of the most prodigiously talented and successful musicians in American history”. Bernstein was the recipient of many honors, including seven Emmy Awards, two Tony Awards, sixteen Grammy Awards including the Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Kennedy Center Honor.

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As a composer he wrote in many genres, including symphonic and orchestral music, ballet, film and theatre music, choral works, opera, chamber music and works for the piano. His best-known work is the Broadway musical West Side Story, which continues to be regularly performed worldwide, and has been adapted into two (1961 and 2021) feature films. His works include three symphonies, Chichester Psalms, Serenade after Plato’s “Symposium”, the original score for the film On the Waterfront, and theater works including On the Town, Wonderful Town, Candide, and his MASS.

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Bernstein was the first American-born conductor to lead a major American symphony orchestra. He was music director of the New York Philharmonic and conducted the world’s major orchestras, generating a significant legacy of audio and video recordings. He was also a critical figure in the modern revival of the music of Gustav Mahler, in whose music he was most passionately interested. A skilled pianist, he often conducted piano concertos from the keyboard. He was the first conductor to share and explore music on television with a mass audience. Through dozens of national and international broadcasts, including the Emmy Award–winning Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic, he made even the most rigorous elements of classical music an adventure in which everyone could join. Through his educational efforts, including several books and the creation of two major international music festivals, he influenced several generations of young musicians.

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A lifelong humanitarian, Bernstein worked in support of civil rights; protested against the Vietnam War; advocated nuclear disarmament; raised money for HIV/AIDS research and awareness; and engaged in multiple international initiatives for human rights and world peace. Near the end of his life, he conducted an historic performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in Berlin to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall. The concert was televised live, worldwide, on Christmas Day, 1989 (wikipedia)

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While for obvious reasons this wasn’t billed as ”The Final Concert” at the time, there must have been quite a few members of the Tanglewood audience who realized what was happening. In places Tim Page’s notes read like a horror story: the fatally ill Bernstein ”cautious, reined-in, measuring his every motion with gravity and care”, nearly breaking down in the Beethoven, and conducting most of the scherzo ”leaning against the back of the podium, gasping for breath.” I’m glad I wasn’t there.

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Painful as all this detail is though, it doesn’t really have much bearing on the central question: what kind of performances are these? In the case of the Four Sea Interludes the answer is, decidedly odd. There’s a strong emotional current running through much of this, but it clogs in too many places, especially in the heavy slurring and dogged tempos of most of ”Storm”—a clear case of emotional overload. The big brass groundswell in ”Dawn” is impressive—as though Britten has (uncharacteristically) been taking lessons from Sibelius—but the similar massive cresendo towards the end of ”Sunday Morning” is out of scale: bell sounds more appropriate to Mussorgsky’s Kremlin than to Britten’s tiny Suffolk fishing village.

Leonard Bernstein06As for the Beethoven—well, in spite of what Page tells us I find it quite impressive. Tempos can be on the deliberate side, sound can be overbearing (the recording gives the timpani a fuzzy edge), but there’s surprisingly little pulling-about of pulse, and the expression—more contained than in a normal Lenny performance—has warmth and fluency. The finale, on the other hand, is a struggle in the positive sense (I emphasize that I made my notes before reading the booklet). The huge timpani crescendos aren’t to my taste, but there’s no denying the feeling behind them, or the will within the heroic tonal stuggle of the coda. It doesn’t all work: going through trio repeats both times at Bernstein’s portentous tread is a bit of an ordeal (what it must have been for Bernstein himself defies speculation). I certainly wouldn’t put it at, or even near the top of any list of recommended Sevenths. But I am glad I heard it. Even in such appalling circumstances, Leonard Bernstein was still capable of enriching our understanding of Beethoven. (gramophone.co.uk)

Recorded live at Tanglewood, Lenox, Massachusetts./USA , August 19, 1990


Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein



Benjamin Britten: Four Sea Interludes From The Opera “Peter Grimes” Op. 33:
01. Dawn 3.41
02. Sunday Morning 4.01
03. Moonlight 5.00
04. Storm 5.32

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 Op. 92:
05. Poco Sostenuto – Vivace 16.17
06. Allegretto 9.47
07. Presto 10.25
08. Allegro Con Brio 8.39



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More from Leonard Bernstein:

The official website:

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Maurice Ravel + Claude Debussy – Bolero + Le Mer (1989)

FrontCover1Two famous concerts from the classical music history:

Before he left for a triumphant tour of North America in January 1928, Maurice Ravel had agreed to write a Spanish-flavoured ballet score for his friend, the Russian dancer and actress Ida Rubinstein (1885-1960).

The idea was to create an orchestral transcription of Albeniz’s piano suite Iberia. But on his return Ravel discovered that the orchestration rights had been granted to the Spanish conductor Enrique Arbós. Although Arbós generously gave up these rights, Ravel abandoned the idea and set about preparing an original score.

Ravel had long toyed with the idea of building a composition from a single theme which would grow simply through harmonic and instrumental ingenuity. Boléro’s famous theme came to him on holiday in Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

MauriceRavelHe was about to go for a swim when he called a friend over to the piano and, playing the melody with one finger, asked: “Don’t you think that has an insistent quality? I’m going to try to repeat it a number of times without any development, gradually increasing the orchestra as best I can.”

He began work in July. By Ravel’s standards the piece was completed quickly, in five months – it had to be ready for Rubinstein to choreograph.

“Once the idea of using only one theme was discovered,” he asserted, “any conservatory student could have done as well.”

BoleroThe relentless snare-drum underpins the whole of the 15-minute work as Ravel inexorably builds on the simple tune until, with a daring modulation from C major to E major, he finally releases the pent-up tension with a burst of fireworks.

Boléro was given its first performance at the Paris Opéra on November 20, 1928. The premiere was acclaimed by a shouting, stamping, cheering audience in the midst of which a woman was heard screaming: “Au fou, au fou!” (“The madman! The madman!”). When Ravel was told of this, he reportedly replied: “That lady… she understood.”

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, he said: “I am particularly desirous there should be no misunderstanding about this work. It constitutes an experiment in a very special and limited direction and should not be suspected of aiming at achieving other or more than it actually does.”

Yet although Ravel considered Boléro one of his least important works, it has always been his most popular. (classicfm.com)

La mer, trois esquisses symphoniques pour orchestre (French for The sea, three symphonic sketches for orchestra), or simply La mer (i.e. The Sea), is an orchestral composition (L 109) by the French composer Claude Debussy.

Composed between 1903 and 1905, the piece was initially not well received, but soon became one of Debussy’s most admired and frequently performed orchestral works.

The work was started in 1903 in France and completed in 1905 at Grand Hotel Eastbourne on the English Channel coast. The premiere was given on 15 October 1905 in Paris, by the Orchestre Lamoureux under the direction of Camille Chevillard.

GrandHotelA typical performance of this piece lasts about 23 or 24 minutes. It is in three movements:

“De l’aube à midi sur la mer” – très lent – animez peu à peu (si mineur)
“Jeux de vagues” – allegro (dans un rythme très souple) – animé (do dièse mineur)
“Dialogue du vent et de la mer” – animé et tumultueux – cédez très légérement (do dièse mineur)

Usually translated as:
“From dawn to noon on the sea” or “From dawn to midday on the sea” – very slow – animate little by little (B minor)
“Play of the Waves” – allegro (with a very versatile rhythm) – animated (C sharp minor)
“Dialogue of the wind and the sea” or “Dialogue between wind and waves” – animated and tumultuous – give up very slightly (C sharp minor)

ClaudeDebussyLa mer is a masterpiece of suggestion and subtlety in its rich depiction of the ocean, which combines unusual orchestration with daring impressionistic harmonies. The work has proven very influential, and its use of sensuous tonal colours and its orchestration methods have influenced many later film scores. While the structure of the work places it outside of both absolute music and programme music (see below on the title “Three symphonic sketches”) as those terms were understood in the early 20th century, it obviously uses descriptive devices to suggest wind, waves and the ambience of the sea. But structuring a piece around a nature subject without any literary or human element to it – neither people, nor mythology, nor ships are suggested in the piece – also was highly unusual at the time.

Debussy called La mer “three symphonic sketches,” avoiding the loaded term symphony. Yet the work is sometimes called a symphony; it consists of two powerful outer movements framing a lighter, faster piece which acts as a type of scherzo. But the author Jean Barraqué (in “La Mer de Debussy,” Analyse musicale 12/3, June 1988,) describes La mer as the first work to have an “open” form – a devenir sonore or “sonorous becoming… a developmental process in which the very notions of exposition and development coexist in an uninterrupted burst.” Simon Trezise, in his book Debussy: La Mer (Cambridge, 1994) notes, however, that “motifs are constantly propagated by derivation from earlier motifs” (p. 52).

Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Seji Ozawa (01. + 02.)
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Carlo Maria Guilini (03. – 05.)
Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas (06.)


Maurice Ravel (recorded 1974):
01. Tempo Di Bolero Moderato Assai 15.01
02. La Valse  11.58

Claude Debussy:

La Mer (recorded 1980):
03. I. From Dawn Till Noon On The Sea De L’aube à Midi Sur La Mer  9.25
04. II. Play Of The Waves Jeux De Vagues 7.18
05. III. Dialogue Of The Wind And The Sea Dialogue Du Vent Et De La Mer  8.38

06. Prélude à L’apr#s-Midi D’un Faune (recorded 1971) 9.32