Leonard Bernstein, the emblem of 1960s New York and icon of the time when classical music still mattered, would have been 91 this week.
Bernstein came onto the scene when art music was cool. Here was a 25-year-old with a wild haircut on stage with the New York Philharmonic. The kid was a rock star when Mahler was still considered rock!
To get an idea of the world during Bernstein's prime: For nine years, from 1962-1971, CBS broadcast more than four dozen of Bernstein's Young Person's Concerts LIVE from New York and these shows were syndicated to more than 40 countries. Think about that. A major TV conglomerate ("suits") broadcasting hours of classical music to every set in America for almost a decade, and advertisers paid for it. Today we get 12 episodes of Harper's Island from CBS if the ratings hold water.
Unfortunately, Lenny probably wouldn't much recognize or appreciate what the audience of the Philharmonic and its counterparts is now: It's old. I mean really old. If you go to a concert these days, expect to wait between movements for the old people to stop coughing. I'm serious! Lorin Maazel even steps off the podium occasionally.
So what happened here? Why didn't the next generation follow their parents into the orchestra halls of America? It is said our nation's constantly-shrinking attention span got the best of art music. As Robert Putnam's sick-with-research Bowling Alone notes: urban sprawl and the logarithmic growth of the availability of everything have made in-person social events that last more than 15 minutes pretty much outré to the youth of this fine nation.
Organizations like The Phil are doing everything they can to get younger butts in Avery Fisher's seats. Example: Prime "Orchestra 1" tickets can go for as much as $115 each but younger fans -- under 35, with ID, natch -- can snag the best seats for just $29 each as long as they buy three tickets per season! The Phil appears on Facebook and Twitter, where it updates the socnet set on performances and recordings and trends.
The Phil is a fantastic part of the lifespan of music in America -- and it is New York at its cultural best -- and its efforts to stay relevant are effective. Still, majestic works like Ives' Symphony No. 2, which Bernstein championed and premiered, are not as intriguing to Americans today as they were 40 years ago. Even MTV and VH1 (when those places play music) don't even bother to play freaking videos all the way through. Americans want to hear a verse, the hook, and then move on to the next cut. We don't make time to hear the sonata-allegro form develop.
I know you can't appreciate Mahler via Facebook and you can't you discuss Prokofiev 140 characters at a time. So what happens?
The LA Phil says it figured out the "young person problem" by hiring the guy being hailed as The Next Bernstein, 28-year old funny-haired wunderkind Gustavo Dudamel, as its Music Director. He starts next month. No one has seen this kind of energy from a conductor since -- Lenny! Watch this video of Dudamel leading a group of high school kids through Bernstein's own Mambo from West Side Story. If it doesn't give you goosebumps, you likely aren't human. Take a second now:
I can't say if Experiment Dudamel will work, but one thing is for sure, though. If Lenny uses Afterlife YouTube, he's digging it.
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