Picks and Pans Review: Family Matters
by Burton Bernstein
When the author was 11 years old, he was in Carnegie Hall on the Sunday afternoon that his older brother, Leonard Bernstein, substituted for an ailing Bruno Walter as conductor of the New York Philharmonic. "When Lenny played Wagner's Die Meistersinger (whose grand themes I knew by heart from Lenny's banging them out on the piano at home) and the concert ended, the house roared like one giant animal in a zoo. It was certainly the loudest human sound I had ever heard—thrilling and scary." This is perhaps the high moment in a rich memoir that is subtitled "Sam, Jennie, and the Kids." The father, Sam, who emigrated to the U.S. from Russia in 1908, is a delightful character who referred to Dwight Eisenhower as "General Eisenberg" and Adlai Stevenson as "Steve Adelson." Owner of his own beauty parlor supply business in Boston, he sent Lenny to Harvard and on to a first-class musical education. The whole family flourished. Burton, a New Yorker staff writer, tries to explain what happened to himself and his siblings (his older sister, Shirley, is a theatrical producer): "Perhaps Lenny, Shirley, and I were educated too much and grew too worldly.... But throughout our guilt-ridden discomfort, arrogant derision, and final acceptance, there was always love." (Summit, $15.50)
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