‘Maestro’ on Netflix lacks the essence of Leonard Bernstein


“Maestro” is fairly good. At the least that seems to be the general verdict from critics and audiences (80% and 85% optimistic rankings, respectively, on Rotten Tomatoes). In my sphere, the classical music neighborhood response has been a collective sigh of reduction.

The Leonard Bernstein biopic will not be mean-spirited as “Tár,” a few fictional conductor and Bernstein prodigy. Apart from being a terrific conductor, composer, pianist and educator, Bernstein wrote a successful bestseller, “Pleasure of Music,” and fortunately “Maestro” will not be joyless.

On the world premiere of the movie in Venice, Italy, Bernstein’s three youngsters have been seen dancing within the aisles because the credit rolled. On the Chinese language Theatre in Hollywood, the place I noticed “Maestro” as a part of the AFI Fest, Jamie Bernstein jubilantly launched the screening by saying that Bradley Cooper — the movie’s director and star — nailed her dad. Ditto Carey Mulligan, who portrays her mom, actress Felicia Montealegre Bernstein.

One of many the reason why “Maestro” comes throughout as fairly good, or perhaps even slightly higher than that, is as a result of it isn’t actually about music. Cooper was strongly influenced by Jamie Bernstein’s memoir, “Well-known Father Lady,” and in effective Hollywood vogue higher realizes not what made her father well-known however what he was actually like. The person behind the parable.

“Maestro” is seemingly an ironic title. As the primary American-born conductor to turn into music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1957, Bernstein did away with many Outdated World formalities and grand maestro-esque titles. He was Lenny to only about everyone.

Bisexual, Bernstein started an affair in 1971 with a dazzlingly sensible younger man from Pasadena, Thomas Cothran, which, when found by Felicia, led to a breakup of the Bernsteins’ marriage. Tom occurred to be a classmate of mine at Pasadena Excessive Faculty and we turned good pals. He’s Tommy in “Maestro” (he by no means would have put up with that from anybody aside from Bernstein) and dismissed within the movie as little greater than an informal attraction.

Tom and Lenny lived collectively for a predictably incompatible yr. Tom had little endurance for Lenny’s late-night bouts of insecurity and, by his telling, was in a position to trim among the excesses from Bernstein’s 1973 Norton Lectures, “The Unanswered Query,” at Harvard College.

Carey Mulligan, left, as Felicia Montealegre and Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in “Maestro.”

(Jason McDonald / Netflix)

Bernstein returned to Felicia when she was recognized with most cancers in 1976, and her demise in 1978 was a horrible trauma for him. He by no means appeared to recover from it. Fraught household life is clear dramatic biopic fodder. However not noted of this saga was the significance of Tom, who collaborated with Bernstein till Tom’s demise from AIDS, reportedly, in 1987.

Apart from this, the glimpses of household life are little question correct. Cooper consulted with the Bernstein siblings, they usually gave him permission to shoot on the household home in Connecticut. Make-up makes Cooper appear to be a detailed facsimile of the outdated Bernstein and a sort-of facsimile of the dashing youthful one. Likewise, Cooper convincingly mimics the voice of the elder Lenny. He sounds unpleasantly shrill because the hyperactive younger conductor and composer taking classical music, Broadway and ballet by storm.

Cooper actorly copies Bernstein’s extravagant conducting fashion. However he lacks the mysterious magic and magnetism that would maintain you and your feelings prisoner. Bernstein wasn’t an actor, he was a seeker. I’ve by no means witnessed the sort of shamanistic energy in a efficiency that Bernstein, at his most elevated, might produce. Love or hate his gestures, they’re Bernstein within the flesh making music, they usually can’t be transferred to anybody else.

That Lenny’s life was chaotic hardly comes as a shock. He was drawn to many issues. He wrote groundbreaking Broadway scores (together with “West Facet Story”). He performed with way more animation (and, for a very long time, to the scorn of musicians, critics and uptight symphony-goers who needed their music handed to them pristine). He wrote classical works that handled non secular crises. It’s typically stated that he was the best communicator music has ever recognized. His Younger Folks’s Live shows with the New York Philharmonic, nationally televised within the mid-Nineteen Fifties and early ’60s, attest to that. They brilliantly demystified classical music to tens of millions of viewers younger and outdated. I used to be one among them.

How a lot Bernstein’s personal life personifies such artistry is at all times going to be a matter of interpretation. He clearly had an enormous libido. He was drawn to an unprecedentedly wide selection of musical actions and pursuits. He had an overwhelming social conscience and concerned himself in political actions.

He was extremely literate, and delved deeply and tirelessly into philosophy, psychology and faith. He had an intense relationship with Judaism, questioning all the pieces. He was gregarious and wanted folks. He was strikingly good-looking and exuded intercourse attraction. He was a series smoker to the tip and drank approach an excessive amount of, placed on weight in his 60s and had insomnia. He died in 1990 at 72 of emphysema. He was, above all, a conductor. Name him Lenny however do what he tells you, whether or not you prefer it or not.

He was on the street loads of the time, and it’s hardly stunning that Bernstein would have a diversified, hyperactive intercourse life. However, by all accounts, he was a loving father and profoundly devoted, in his personal approach, to Felicia. There’s sufficient curiosity on this for a fairly good Hollywood film.

However that isn’t what made Bernstein distinctive. It’s all the pieces else. The very fact is Bernstein didn’t have all that a lot time for household. He was doing a thousand issues. When house, furthermore, he labored like loopy, composing, learning scores, studying and writing. (He was stated to follow the piano little or no.)

A conductor leads an orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl, in a black-and-white photo from the audience view.

Leonard Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic on the Hollywood Bowl in 1963.

(Otto Rothschild / The Music Heart)

In the long run Lenny’s love for music was the love he might share with the world, however that’s far harder for an actor to convey. As well as, we’ve seen a lot Bernstein onscreen that anybody else making an attempt seems to be like an AI faux.

Copying Bernstein’s conducting is much more problematic. Cooper impressively mimics Bernstein’s actions in a efficiency of the apotheosis of Mahler’s Second Symphony on the Ely Cathedral in London, which Bernstein filmed. However you possibly can’t mimic essence. “Don’t copy me,” Bernstein recurrently informed pupil conductors.

Worse, although, is the soundtrack, bits and items of Bernstein’s music primarily with Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. The recorded sound is bombastic; instrumental balances, grotesque; the conducting, bland. Had “Maestro” explored Bernstein as musician and shaman extra completely, it might have needed to present that this soundtrack, which must be the center of the movie, goes in opposition to all the pieces Bernstein stood for.

The excellent news is that “Maestro” might turn into ok to advertise a small wave of maestromania. Keep away from the soundtrack recording in any respect prices: It’s a headache-making combine observe from Bernstein hell. However Bernstein’s profession occurs to have been very effectively documented on recording and video, and practically all of it stays available on vinyl, CD, DVD, Blu-ray and streaming.

Watch a Younger Folks’s Live performance and also you’ll probably discover one will not be sufficient. If you wish to know what Bernstein actually considered love, take heed to his “Serenade (After Plato’s Symposium),” a love letter to Felicia that can be a warning that he was a rapturous and vivacious lover with an limitless urge for food. Bernstein’s recordings of this quasi-violin concerto with Gidon Kremer as soloist make the rapture completely actual.



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