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.