Work­ing with Bern­stein: A Memoir

Jack Got­tlieb
  • Review
By – September 1, 2011
When he was eight years old, Leonard Bern­stein recalls that he felt some­thing stir with­in him and he became sub­con­scious­ly aware that music was his rea­son for being. Some­time between 1932 and 1935— when Bern­stein was a teenag­er — he com­posed his first piece of music, a set­ting for Psalm 148; for the next 55 years, until his death in 1990, Bern­stein com­posed numer­ous mem­o­rable scores—West Side Sto­ry (1957), Can­dide (1957), Dance Suite (1989), among oth­ers— and con­duct­ed the New York Phil­har­mon­ic (NYP) with an ener­gy nev­er before seen in orches­tral lead­ers. As music direc­tor of the NYP, Bern­stein worked tire­less­ly not only on com­pos­ing and con­duct­ing but also in shar­ing his enthu­si­asm for and joy about clas­si­cal music through var­i­ous edu­ca­tion­al ini­tia­tives. Got­tlieb, Bernstein’s per­son­al assis­tant, here pro­vides an admir­ing account of his for­mer close friend and boss by retelling tales of encoun­ters with world lead­ers from John F. Kennedy to David Ben-Guri­on and celebri­ties from Bette Davis to Har­ry Bela­fonte and Nat King Cole, among oth­ers. The sec­ond half of the book con­tains Gottleib’s volu­mi­nous notes on Bernstein’s var­i­ous com­po­si­tions, per­for­mances, and writ­ings. While we gen­er­al­ly learn more about Got­tlieb than Bern­stein in this some­times hagio­graph­ic account of the great com­pos­er and con­duc­tor, Gottlieb’s book nev­er­the­less pro­vides inti­mate glimpses of the many ways that Bernstein’s genius influ­enced, and con­tin­ues to influ­ence, con­tem­po­rary culture.
Hen­ry L. Car­ri­g­an, Jr. writes about books for Pub­lish­ers Week­ly, Library Jour­nal, Book­Page, and Fore­Word. He has writ­ten for numer­ous news­pa­pers includ­ing the Atlanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion, The Char­lotte Observ­er, The Cleve­land Plain Deal­er, The Orlan­do Sen­tinel, The Chris­t­ian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor, and The Wash­ing­ton Post Book World.

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