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Composer, conductor, author, pianist, lecturer — was there anything Leonard Bernstein couldn’t do?

A review of Allen Shawn’s life of this maverick reveals him as an object of both admiration and suspicion in the music world

29 November 2014

9:00 AM

29 November 2014

9:00 AM

Leonard Bernstein Allen Shawn

Yale, pp.347, £18.99, ISBN: 9780300144284

On 17 May 1969 Leonard Bernstein ended his 12-year run as musical director of the New York Philharmonic with a performance of Mahler’s Third. The next night he went to see Jimi Hendrix play Madison Square Gardens. And there you have him. Was Bernstein a fragile romantic or a firebrand rocker? Was he the spiritual visionary who gave us Chichester Psalms or the tin-pan-alley tunesmith behind West Side Story?

Bernstein went to his grave claiming it was possible to be all these things and more — insisting that you could be a political activist and a concert pianist, a conductor of...

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