On our way to a performance of Junk, Ayad Akhtar’s new play about the 1980’s financial world where junk bonds captured investor (and federal investigator) attention, we stopped at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’ exhibit about Leonard Bernstein. 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the American composer and conductor’s birthday and the library has gathered memorabilia for the public to see and hear.
The exhibit opens with a quote from Bernstein’s father, Samuel, a hair product distributor in Boston and a Russian Jewish immigrant.
“Every genius had a handicap. Beethoven was deaf. Chopin had tuberculosis. Well someday the books will say, ‘Leonard Bernstein had a father’.” (1958)
Samuel initially discouraged his son from pursuing music as a career and expected Leonard, called Lenny, to join the family business. Given a piano by an aunt, Leonard began lessons and became hooked, learning music by the European greats as well as American composers like Aaron Copland and George Gershwin.
The exhibit includes 150 photographs, scores, costumes, record album covers, awards, and correspondence. There are a few of Bernstein’s pencils that he used to compose, and called his “soldiers.” There’s a soundproof booth where you can sing along karaoke-style to “America” from West Side Story.
Bernstein recorded more than 800 records for prominent record companies, composed operas, symphonies, Broadway shows, and film scores. He became politically active, promoting peace, through his music. He said, “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”
Truly a genius. The world is lucky he didn’t follow his father’s wishes.
As to Junk, I had my financial journalist husband patiently explaining a few things and also comparing the play to the actual events and people of the period. I found the characters a bit stereotypical and while not the worst play I’ve seen, not my favorite. The greed of the people and their behavior and attitudes toward those less fortunate is a reminder how little has changed especially in today’s political climate.