Bernstein conducts Barber!

One of Leonard Bernstein’s most unique capabilities was his ability to perform and compose American music. And Samuel Barber’s violin concerto represents a wonderful vehicle for Bernstein’s performance expertise.

Samuel Barber was born in 1910 in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and he died in 1981. His music, expertly crafted and built on romantic structures is at once lyrical, rhythmically complex, and harmonically rich. The performance of Barber’s violin concerto is strong for two reasons: 

  1. The outstanding orchestral playing by the NY Philharmonic at its height, and
  2. Bernstein’s strong capabilities to conduct American rhythms. Bernstein was a child of the jazz and swing eras, and it shows even when he is handling the delicate aspects of the concerto’s first movement.

The Violin Concerto by Samuel Barber is a very lovely and passionate piece of music that is curiously “Romantic” and “Modern” all at once. Though it seems to be based on the model of the Brahms concerto, it is also quite interesting on its own terms. Violinist Isaac Stern is in great form, and so is conductor Leonard Bernstein who exhorts strong playing from the fantastic players of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

The “Adagio for Strings” by Barber, has, of course, become a well-known piece, and has also been used in several movies such as “Platoon”. This illustrates what a fine and melodic composer Mr. Barber truly was.

“The Unanswered Question” by Charles Ives is a bonus track, and his piece is quite mysterious and ethereal.

Aaron Copland’s rousing “Fanfare for the Common Man” is another American classic dedicated to the citizen soldiers who saved the world from tyranny during World War II. No conductor, by the way, could reach the heart of Copland’s music like Leonard Bernstein who, of course, brings the fanfare to its full magnitude.

Here is a 10-minute audio of Bernstein performing the Adagio for strings with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.

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