Picks and Pans Review: American Masters: Leonard Bernstein
Show of the week
Early in this two-hour biography, we glimpse the maestro in all his glory: jumping, swooning and sweating as he conducts Mahler's Fifth Symphony. Leonard Bernstein, who died of a heart attack in 1990 at 72, practiced what conductor Michael Tilson Thomas calls ecstatic music-making. Reflecting on his emotional abandon at the podium, Bernstein says here, "I'm absolutely lost in the music and with my musicians—breathing with them, pulsing with them." Watching this remarkably rich documentary, you'll feel similarly connected to the life of the subject. Subtitled Reaching for the Note, the film captures the heartbeat of a man who personified classical music to millions of Americans through his leadership of the New York Philharmonic (1958-69) and his TV stardom in CBS's Young People's Concerts (1958-72). He also made an indelible mark in the popular realm by writing the scores for West Side Story and On the Town. Bernstein's life was not without dissonance. He struggled to play his anomalous role as bisexual husband and father, and he was hurt by criticism that he preferred showboating with a baton to the lonely work of composing "serious" music for the ages. But what comes through most clearly is Bernstein's need to share his musical passions in the here and now. "Whatever I've enjoyed," we hear him say, "I want others to enjoy." So enjoy.
Bottom Line: Bravissimo!