Young People’s Concerts 2 -- In my last report, I wrote about the first volume of "Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts" on Kultur DVDs. That set contained 25 televised concerts given in Carnegie Hall and later in Philharmonic Hall and designed to introduce "young" people to many aspects of classical music. Now there is a second volume with 27 concerts given from 1960 to 1970 -- and I am sure there are still some not yet released.
My only real objection to Bernstein’s approach is that he is far too often talking way over the heads of the youngsters in the audience. Indeed, the camera is merciless in picking up those in the audience playing with their programs, sitting in a daze or in a semi-sleep, and in general wishing they were somewhere else. Actually, I blame the parents for bringing children too young to understand what is going on.
Bernstein is further at fault for choosing musical illustrations that are either too long, too complex or both, for even the older youth to take in. And when he utters statements like "I am sure that when you think of melody, you think of Brahms," I wonder if he thinks he is speaking to a group of professional musicians. In fact, he is "sure" of many things that any second thoughts should have dissuaded him from claiming.
That said, this set is, like the earlier one, a super product for us grownups! His analyses of works like "The Planets," "Pictures at an Exhibition" (first the piano version, then the Ravel orchestration), and Strauss’ "Don Quixote" are quite good. Among the most interesting is "Bach Transmogrified," in which one of that composer’s works is played in the original version, followed by an orchestrated one (arranged and conducted by Leopold Stokowski), and then on the Moog Synthesizer. More radical treatments of other Bach works end with a rock and roll version. Fascinating.
Of little interest to the younger audience are the nine "Young Performers" concerts in which upcoming conductors (one of whom is Seiji Ozawa) and musicians are invited to perform. Where he can, Bernstein does some explanation of what the piece is about. Better are his talks in which he explains the acoustics of Philharmonic Hall and "The Anatomy of a Symphony Orchestra," the latter of which uses the four short movements of "The Pines of Rome" to illustrate his topic.
Any lover of classical music should definitely view both volumes. What the really young in the original audiences might have missed will be most welcome by viewers today.
1916 -- In truth, I am running out of different ways to praise each entry in Archeophone’s series called The Phonographic Yearbook. A good example is "1916: The Country Found Them Ready," which is as excellent as all the other "years" already in the catalogues. The booklet is as packed as ever with information and pictures to bind together the 25 selections from original recordings of the period. So all I can do is note that some of the songs are geared to the European Conflict, the War to End All Wars, or World War I as it came to be called when it was clear that it ended nothing.
There are "Keep the Home Fires Burning" and "America" to keep the allied chins up; "Along the Rocky Road to Dublin" and "Ireland Must Be Heaven Because My Mother Came From There" to please a large part of the population; "I Sent My Wife to the Thousand Isles" and "I Can Dance With Everybody but My Wife" to keep the battle of the sexes slanted towards the male; and "M-o-t-h-e-r (a word that means the world to me)" to wring a tear from everybody.
Among the performers are Al Jolson, Henry Burr, John McCormack and Billy Murray -- all great names in their day and still much beloved by many senior citizens today.
Social studies teachers cannot afford to be without them, nor can lovers of popular music and especially the popular song. Archeophone, keep it going!
Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays.