19 December: The party life of Bernstein

Every day throughout Advent, the season of overindulgence, we’ll be telling a tale of an overindulgent composer


Composer: Leonard Bernstein


How indulgent: Voraciously indulgent

How: Leonard Bernstein was an avid partygoer, known to stay interminably should he be particularly enjoying the evening. Even whilst conducting, he appeared to be having a party, with one New York Times editorial describing how he ‘wiggles and dances like a… surfer, carried aloft on waves of sound.’

Besides partying, he was also a heavy smoker, suffering from emphysema from middle-age onwards. Indeed, whilst conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in 1990, Bernstein suffered an extensive coughing fit, but managed to battle through to the work’s conclusion.

Did you know: Journalist Tom Wolfe used the phrase ‘radical chic’ to describe the encouragement of radical political causes by the rich and famous. Guess who the phrase first referred to? Leonard Bernstein. Wolfe’s full use of the phrase was ‘Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s’.

In January 1970, the New York magazine featured a photo of the musical polymath with the Field Marshal of the Black Panther Party in Bernstein’s New York penthouse. The article mocked the composer for hosting a fundraising party for this radical black nationalist organisation, highlighting the very different world Bernstein occupied when compared to the lives of poor black Americans.

Now indulge yourself with….. Prelude, Trouble in Tahiti


This jazzy number is rhythmic galore, with time signature changes that mislead your toe-tapping…. The opening clarinet recalls another great jazz-classical hybrid work, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue