Dinner with Lenny: The Last Long Interview with Leonard Bernstein
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Dinner with Lenny: The Last Long Interview with Leonard Bernstein

4.8 4
by Jonathan Cott
     
 

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Leonard Bernstein was arguably the most highly esteemed, influential, and charismatic American classical music personality of the twentieth century. Conductor, composer, pianist, writer, educator, and human rights activist, Bernstein truly led a life of Byronic intensity—passionate, risk-taking, and convention-breaking.

In November 1989, just a year before

Overview

Leonard Bernstein was arguably the most highly esteemed, influential, and charismatic American classical music personality of the twentieth century. Conductor, composer, pianist, writer, educator, and human rights activist, Bernstein truly led a life of Byronic intensity—passionate, risk-taking, and convention-breaking.

In November 1989, just a year before his death, Bernstein invited writer Jonathan Cott to his country home in Fairfield, Connecticut for what turned out to be his last major interview—an unprecedented and astonishingly frank twelve-hour conversation. Now, in Dinner with Lenny, Cott provides a complete account of this remarkable dialogue in which Bernstein discourses with disarming frankness, humor, and intensity on matters musical, pedagogical, political, psychological, spiritual, and the unabashedly personal. Bernstein comes alive again, with vodka glass in hand, singing, humming, and making pointed comments on a wide array of topics, from popular music ("the Beatles were the best songwriters since Gershwin"), to great composers ("Wagner was always in a psychotic frenzy. He was a madman, a megalomaniac"), and politics (lamenting "the brainlessness, the mindlessness, the carelessness, and the heedlessness of the Reagans of the world"). And of course, Bernstein talks of conducting, advising students "to look at the score and make it come alive as if they were the composer. If you can do that, you're a conductorand if you can't, you're not. If I don't become Brahms or Tchaikovsky or Stravinsky when I'm conducting their works, then it won't be a great performance."

After Rolling Stone magazine published an abridged version of the conversation in 1990, the Chicago Tribune praised it as "an extraordinary interview" filled with "passion, wit, and acute analysis." Studs Terkel called the interview "astonishing and revelatory." Now, this full-length version provides the reader with a unique, you-are-there perspective on what it was like to converse with this gregarious, witty, candid, and inspiring American dynamo.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"'Unlike almost any other classical performer of recent times, Leonard Bernstein adamantly, and sometimes controversially, refused to compartmentalize and separate his emotional, intellectual, political, erotic and spiritual longings from the musical experience,' Jonathan Cott writes in Dinner With Lenny: The Last Long Interview with Leonard Bernstein. Mr. Cott, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, then delivers exactly what his title promises, though dinner turns out to be an understatement. It is like referring to a chef's tasting menu as fast food."—Sam Roberts, The New York Times

"Perhaps the most memorable tale in this altogether readable book is offered by Cott. After hearing Bernstein conduct Beethoven's Ninth at Carnegie Hall with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1979, the author and a friend walked down to Studio 54, the late-night place to be in those days. Out on the packed dance floor, Cott was bumped from behind. When he turned to see who had crashed into him, it was, yes, Bernstein, 'wildly dancing—bare-chested under a black leather jacket.' No question about it, Lenny was determined to live large. And if you want to know what happened with Alma at the Hotel Pierre, you'll have to read the book."
—Jonathan Rosenberg, The Christian Science Monitor

"If Leonard Bernstein tested the limits of pressing the conductor's own personality into the score, he was, as a musician with a world conscience, Toscanini's successor. The political, free-associating liberated spirit comes through lyrically in Jonathan Cott's Dinner With Lenny: The Last Long Interview With Leonard Bernstein." —Peter Dobrin, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Dinner with Lenny is surprisingly captivating...there is something charming about the dialogue between the two men that makes the reader want to keep reading."
—Amanda Mark, New York Journal of Books

"Jonathan Cott has an extraordinary gift for getting interesting people, especially musicians, to energetically, informatively and entertainingly speak about their personal insights into music and many other matters, near and far. Read this book and see for yourself."
—Steve Reich, composer

"Jonathan Cott captures the ebullience; the enormous brilliance; and the life affirming joy that exuded from Leonard Bernstein. I could feel myself once again at the table with Bernstein, where topics, puns and postulates blazed!"—Marin Alsop, Music Director, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and Chief Conductor, São Paolo Symphony Orchestra

Library Journal
There is no shortage of information about the great Leonard Bernstein. Yet within Rolling Stone editor Cott's (Days That I'll Remember: Spending Time with John Lennon and Yoko Ono) new book is something the music world has been sorely missing for over 20 years: the voice of Bernstein himself. The interview contained here took place a year before Bernstein's death—when he was rarely granting interviews—and his candor and remarkable memory is matched only by the skill and erudition of interviewer Cott. In an almost perfect marriage of sensibilities, Cott's questions lead Bernstein far beyond the mundane, exploring the personal and passionate connection the conductor and composer seemingly had with every aspect of his life. This interview first appeared in Rolling Stone in 1990, though in a much abbreviated form. Its publication in full is a long-overdue gift to students of music, education, and (to be honest) life. VERDICT This is a small but significant addition to Bernstein's legacy. A fascinating look into the mind and heart of a remarkable individual, this is an essential title for all music lovers and highly recommended for all libraries.—Peter Thornell, Hingham P.L.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199858446
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
01/08/2013
Pages:
192
Sales rank:
338,421
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Cott is the author of sixteen previous books, including Conversations with Glenn Gould; Stockhausen: Conversations with the Composer; Dylan (A Biography); and Back To A Shadow In The Night: Music Writings and Interviews - 1968-2001. A contributing editor at Rolling Stone since the magazine's inception, Cott has also written for The New York Times and The New Yorker. He lives in New York City.

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Dinner with Lenny: The Last Long Interview with Leonard Bernstein 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This interview was done less than a year before Bernstein's death. Lenny cuts loose on everything from music to politics & clears up some misonceptions about, for example the Glenn Gould Brahms Piano Concerto #1 performances. A fascinating read, although one gets the impression that deep down Bernstein knew he was not well. The amazing performances of Beethoven 9 in Berlin, Bruckner 9 & Sibelius 1 in Vienna, Candide in London were on the horizon shortly after the interview so he still had plenty to say on the podium. A worthwhile read.
ABookAWeekES More than 1 year ago
Towards the end of his life, famed composer, pianist, and conductor, Leonard Bernstein, rarely gave interviews. When a young Jonathan Cott requested an interview with the maestro for a story to appear in Rolling Stones magazine, he was certain Bernstein would decline his request. Fortunately, Bernstein was impressed with the writings of Cott and in November of 1989, a year before his death, invited him to dinner at his home. In what is noted as Bernsteins last major interview, Cott has presented the key moments in his twelve hour conversation with the composer. Immediately, the reader is drawn in by the eccentric personality of Bernstein. He speaks with a passion and confidence that demands to be listened to. Over the course of the interview, the two discuss everything from Bernstein's acclaimed career as a world-renowned musician to the intimate details of his florid love affairs. The book opens with a short biography of Bernstein. In this section, we are told about his first encounter with a piano, his appointment as conductor of the New York Philharmonic, and his rise as a world renowned musician. The interview itself is only about 165 pages, but is packed with overflowing emotional and informational content. After completing this interview, it is apparent that Bernstein lived his life by completely giving himself to everything he did. The personalities of both Bernstein and Cott make this a quick and insightful read that is accessible to anyone who chooses to read it.
gloriafeit More than 1 year ago
This is a book, sub-titled &ldquo;The Last Long Interview with Leonard Bernstein,&rdquo; that is slight in size only, but which provides hefty and fascinating insight into the mind of the internationally renowned &ldquo;Lenny&rdquo; Bernstein, brilliant conductor, composer of orchestral works as well as legendary musical scores for Broadway, including On the Town, Wonderful Town, and West Side Story, and lecturer at innumerable Young People&rsquo;s Concerts at Carnegie Hall. The author conducted a twelve-hour interview at Bernstein&rsquo;s country home in Fairfield, Connecticut in November of 1989, not long after his 71st birthday &ndash; he passed away less than a year later. The book opens, fittingly, with a Prelude, and concludes with a Postlude, in which the author discusses his subject, with many details of his career, e.g., it was on his 25th birthday that he was appointed the conducting assistant to Artur Rodzinski, then the music director of the NY Philharmonic, who told the young man that he had &ldquo;gone through all the conductors I know of in my mind and I finally asked God whom I should take, and God said, &ldquo;Take Bernstein.&rdquo; Three months later, he made his &ldquo;legendary conductorial debut with the New York Philharmonic substituting for an ailing Bruno Walter on only a few hours&rsquo; notice at a Sunday afternoon Carnegie Hall concert on November 14, 1943.&rdquo; Bernstein states that he &ldquo;was fourteen when I attended my first concert, and it was a revelation. It was a Boston Pops benefit for my father&rsquo;s temple - - he had to go because he was vice-president of the temple.&rdquo; He did jazz gigs as well as weddings and bar mitzvahs to defray the cost of his piano lessons. There is discussion on Freud; the family seders; political references, e.g., Bernstein was blacklisted for years and the FBI had a file on him 700 pages thick, and the fact that he made the front page of the NY Times and Washington Post - - which included his picture, he was quick to note - - when he refused to attend the White House luncheon awards ceremony given by President Bush; gave six lectures at Harvard University in 1973; famously took the all-Catholic Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, whose players didn&rsquo;t know what a Jew was before he conducted them, to Israel; among many other anecdotes. Bernstein&rsquo;s enthusiasm, erudition and brilliance shine through these pages. This is a book to be savored by musicians and non-musicians alike, and is highly recommended.