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Leonard Bernstein at Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival
Leonard Bernstein teaching, performing, lectures and Master Course
rec. Salzau, Germany August 1988
Video director Horanth Hohlfeld
Bonus Material:
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Concerto in A minor
Justus Frantz (piano), Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein
Aspect ratio 4:3; Sound format PCM Stereo; NTSC Region code 0
Languages/Subtitles English, German, Korean, Japanese
C MAJOR 746608 [3 DVDs: 215 mins]

This box set offers a lively, educational but often uncomfortable inside look at the professional world of young conductors and orchestral musicians in three one-hour-long programmes. It also documents Leonard Bernstein rehearsing an orchestra made up of 120 young musicians, chosen from 1,600 players who were auditioned to take part in the festival. In Bernstein’s own words: “I am trying to do something for Europe that Europe actually did for me. I had promised myself to founding another Tanglewood here.”

The 3 DVDs are as follows:
DVD 1 - The Birth of an Orchestra
DVD 2 - Orchestral work with Stravinsky’s Rite of the Spring
DVD 3 - International Conductors’ Competition and Master Course

DVD1 shows the musicians arriving in Salzau, meeting each other for the first time and settling into the campus. The sectional rehearsals under the guidance of professional musicians and conductors show just how quickly an orchestra can be pulled together from scratch and trained to work as a team. We then see the full orchestra polishing the Stravinsky up to the standard required for Bernstein’s arrival. Somewhat less valuable is the home movie style footage of the young people socialising. Despite some interesting interviews with the players it’s somewhat long winded and is probably only of value to those who took part in this remarkable event.

DVD2 is the most satisfying of the three discs. This is an intense rehearsal of The Rite of Spring with Bernstein educating, coaxing and inspiring the musicians to new levels of performance. Not everybody warms to Bernstein’s personality and some find him somewhat over the top. The rehearsal footage of Elgar’s Enigma Variations is notorious for the spat between him and members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. However, he was a superb musician and there is no doubting the impact he made on the orchestra on this occasion.

DVD3 makes for some rather uncomfortable viewing. Bernstein takes a number of young conductors through their paces at a conducting master class. One of the conductors is Marin Alsop who makes a brief appearance. One young man is overwhelmed by the experience and he fails to communicate with the orchestra. The whole scene is humiliating and the way he puts himself through the emotional wringer in front of a clearly unsettled orchestra does question why this footage was issued into the public domain. Putting this scene to one side the viewer does get some insight into the art of conducting that is well worth seeing.

Bear in mind that the video is from 1988. The quality is fine but obviously dated. The documentation is rather poor. It’s all about Bernstein and the festival but it would have been helpful to have included a list of the conductors taking part. The subtitles don’t always help in this regard. The audio switches between English and German. Overall it’s a patchy set but well worth acquiring for the extensive rehearsal sequences. It will appeal to Bernstein fans and those who are interested in watching how rehearsals bring a score to life in the hands of a master musician. The festival was the brainchild of Justus Frantz and by way of a bonus it is fitting that we hear him in a beautiful performance of the Schumann concerto with Bernstein at the helm in Vienna.

John Whitmore

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