National Philharmonic: Infamous Brahms
When he walked on stage on April 6,1962 to conduct what became one of the most controversial concerts in the history of the New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein took the unusual step of making a disclaimer from the podium and calling attention to the unorthodox interpretation of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 by the soloist for the evening, Glenn Gould. It was a moment that highlighted the conflict between two oversized artistic personalities, two highly individual interpreters who faced each other in a battle of musical titans. Among other things, Bernstein pointed out that, “I have only once before in my life had to submit to a soloist’s wholly new and incompatible concept and that was the last time I accompanied Mr. Gould.” The concert was a landmark in the history of the New York Philharmonic, of Glenn Gould’s career, and of Bernstein’s conducting. One month before Tchaikovsky began working on his Symphony No. 5, he outlined in his notebook a psychological scenario for its first movement: “[It is]… a complete resignation before fate, which is the same as the inscrutable predestination of fate ….” The Symphony No. 5 is a work of great emotional pathos, anguish, and introspection. Bernstein was particularly drawn to music of heightened emotionalism, and in reviewing one of his performances of this symphony New York Times critic John Rockwell noted: “The very point of this music is that it is breast-beating Romanticism, and nobody beats breasts better than Mr. Bernstein.” Brahms and Tchaikovsky, two of Bernstein’s favorite composers, share the stage in works of enormous emotional breadth and monumental musical scale.
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