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Pocketmags Digital Magazines
Pocketmags Digital Magazines

Glamorous butterfly

Whether he was conducting, composing or communicating, Leonard Bernstein was a stylish innovator, says Alexandra Coghlan

Critical Lives: Leonard Bernstein by Paul R Laird (Reaktion, £11.99)

Between 1958 and 1972, Leonard Bernstein presented 53 episodes of his pioneering Young People’s Concerts on US television. In over 50 hours of broadcasting one moment stands out. It’s in the episode entitled, unpromisingly, “What is a Mode?” Faced with the task of explaining the “tongue-twisting” Mixolydian mode to his Sunday-afternoon audience, Bernstein sits down at the piano. Dressed in a suit and tie, with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra ranked behind him on stage, he begins to play and sing: “Girl, you really got me goin’. You got me so I can’t sleep at night…”

That delicious friction between high and low, the incongruous spectacle of a world-famous conductor and composer singing the Kinks on national television—and the wonderful ease with which Bernstein then transitions into Debussy—says everything you need to know about this singular figure.

Bernstein was overwhelmingly gifted, era-defining musician, the composer of scores including West Side Story, Candide, Mass and the three genre-defying symphonies, conductor of the New York Philharmonic, a skilled solo pianist, educator, author and activist. But he was also a showman who relished his personal celebrity as much as his professional career. He was a classical musician who composed for Broadway, closer in some ways to Stephen Sondheim than Igor Stravinsky: the grip of his signature baton was fashioned from (what else?) a champagne cork. Bernstein was the artist the public loved and the critics loved to hate.

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In Prospect’s May issue: More than a dozen writers critique the current state of economics, suggesting there are still lessons to learn more than a decade on from the financial crash. Howard Reed writes that the ideas we hold about the way economics works need to be ripped up. Ten of the world’s best living economists explain what, in their view, is the single most important lesson economics still has to learn, and Linda Yueh suggests what three of the past masters would think about economics today. Elsewhere in the issue: Vernon Bogdanor outlines why Brexit could cause a constitutional crisis in Britain; Jean H Lee explains why young South Koreans don’t want their country to reunify with their Northern neighbours; Sian Norris writes about the coming battle over abortion and shows where the UK ranks among its European peers; and Sonia Purnell profiles Jacob Rees-Mogg.