Last night I watched the documentary “Reaching for the Note” totally mesmerized throughout and tear-stained at the end. If you have a passion about any of the following things: music, life, peace or even a passion for passion and a zest for life I highly recommend owning this DVD.
Lenny became a musical icon and was one of the first to break the barriers between the intellectual elite who often saw classical music as “theirs” and infected those from all walks of life with a passion for it; showing them it wasn’t actually so inaccessible and stuffy after all and that it belonged to everyone. Leaders in prominent positions (whether they are U.S. Presidents or conductors) often “enjoy” an onslaught of criticism and suspicion. The staid classical critics liked to dismiss Lenny as a showman that turned classical music into a circus. But those musicians who worked with him and were close to him knew that he really and truly was just so deeply affected by music. He wasn’t faking anything, just exuberant and effusive about his love. Other critics liked to try to pigeon-hole him into a theater only box, or the conductor box.
Below Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (which he changed to “Ode to Freedom”) at the historical concert celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall.
True, he was a great iconic conductor, and true he brought something new with West Side Story, but he was a talented composer in his own right. As many perfectionists who will die for their art, none of that was enough. He wanted to be taken more seriously in the areas he wasn’t, and as one former violinist of the New York Phil surmised, “He may have wanted to be Mahler #2.”
Regardless of any human weaknesses, or where he felt his legacy fell short he was loved by New Yorkers, by Americans as the first famous, iconic classical conductor grown domestically and by the world for using musical gifts as an extension of the olive branch to penetrate walls, rather than erect them.