'Unlocking the Masters: Bernstein’s Orchestral Music, An Owner’s Manual'
'Unlocking the Masters: Bernstein’s Orchestral Music, An Owner’s Manual' by David Hurwitz. Amadeus Press, $24.99.
It’s clear from the beginning that this owner’s manual is intended for a serious, erudite audience. Steven J. Sherman’s photo, in sepia tones, portrays an elegant, older Bernstein, hidden and watchful. The introduction asks provocatively, was “Bernstein a great composer?” The included CD consists of three big works, not the usual bits and snippets. Readers, however, need not be musicians to enjoy Hurwitz’s sweeping essays told in absorbing narratives, both musical and personal.
Miraculously, without the aid of even one music example, and though his musical descriptions are filled with highly intricate detail, Hurwitz manages to articulate in clear, clean prose the essence of some pretty sophisticated, and remarkable, musical events.
For Hurwitz, Bernstein was a genius whose enormous outflow of creativity may have perhaps necessarily languished in the shadow of his even more enormous life and personality. Letting go of someone with whom you have been in love is always difficult to do, and Hurwitz pauses frequently in his musical rambles to recount incidents and anecdotes from Bernstein’s life that convey something of what his friends, colleagues, and lovers saw when they looked into his eyes.
The included CD, featuring performances conducted by Bernstein from his Columbia days with the New York Philharmonic, adds substantially to the book’s value: Symphony No. 1 (“Jeremiah”), Symphonic Dances fromWest Side Story, and Serenade after Plato’s Symposium—the solo part in the latter, which Hurwitz calls “a great violin concerto,” is performed with radiant attitude and flash by Zino Francescatti.
All the performances pulse with the energy and freshness of youth out on the town and sound best at loud volume.