Being Leonard Bernstein

How the film “Maestro” and two documentaries pay tribute to music mastermind, Leonard Bernstein.

One of America’s most celebrated conductors, composers, and pianists, Leonard Bernstein (1918 – 1990), has never been far from public consciousness.  The recipient of a breath-taking sixteen Grammy awards, seven Emmys, and two Tony awards his work is seared into the creative imagination thanks to popular works such as, ”West Side Story”, ”On the Town” and ”Candide”.  The first American conductor to lead a major American symphony orchestra (The New York Philharmonic) he was at the forefront of both classical music and musical theater during his lifetime.  An enigmatic conductor of ferocious energy and power he was also a respected humanitarian, talented communicator, and a gargantuan lover of the human spirit blessed with a vast intellect. A polymath of the podium.

Following the film release of, ”Maestro”(2023) which takes an intimate look at Bernstein’s marriage to his actress wife, Felicia Montealegre, and nominated for seven Academy Awards thanks to outstanding performances from Hollywood stars Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan – there are also two documentaries to add to the mix. For Bernstein enthusiasts and admirers of the film, both offer fascinating insight into the conductor’s life providing a benchmark for Bradley Cooper’s mesmerizing performance as Leonard Bernstein which bears an uncanny resemblance to the real-life conductor.  The viewer can connect with Bernstein’s creative energy and flair in an intriguing look at his personal and professional life that masterfully compliments the film.

Reflections” released in 1978 when the conductor was sixty years old is a moving portrait in his own words filmed during rehearsals for The Leonard Bernstein Festival in Israel in 1977. Revelatory and intimate, Bernstein discusses his creative process as well as personal relationships.

One moment to savor is the memory of his Ukrainian émigré father’s reaction to his conducting debut aged twenty-four – an opportunity that would change his life – when he stepped in for the German conductor, Bruno Walter at the last minute, conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in 1943.  Describing the standing ovation, he says his father was, ”dazzled, bewildered and stupefied” at his son’s ability referring to it as, ”deeply moving”.  It is typical of Bernstein’s generosity of spirit that we are allowed a peep into these private moments.

From the documentary ”Reflections

Where ”Reflections” documents the personal musings of Mr. Bernstein, ”Four Ways to Say Farewell” follows him over three days of rehearsals and the final performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony with Vienna’s Philharmonic Orchestra in 1971.   Largely credited with putting the Austrian composer back into the mainstream we experience the conductor’s vitality in a professional setting.  Gesticulating wildly and jumping up and down on the podium it is thrilling to watch the conductor in action.  ”Why am I such a wreck after conducting Mahler?” he asks himself.  ”I have to act what I want to hear” he replies.  Comparing conducting the symphony to reaching the end of a Tolstoy novel he is exceptionally articulate and knowledgeable throughout.

Widely regarded as, ”music’s most articulate spokesperson” when he was alive, we must take advantage of the renewed interest in his life and enjoy getting to know the maestro even better. You can watch both documentaries anytime on Marquee TV.


From the documentary, ”Four Ways to Say Farewell

Join our community newsletter for the latest content and offers