Bernstein conducts Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring and Sibelius's Symphony No. 5

London Symphony Orchestra. 1966

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Leonard Bernstein conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in an exceptional archive from the BBC!

This concert was given especially for the cameras of the BBC, in November 1966. Leonard Bernstein had been music director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for eight year and was famous for his performances with the orchestra in Moscow, Berlin and around the world. However, in Britain, he was mainly known as the composer of the much acclaimed musical West Side Story and little was known of his conductor activities.

For this collaboration with the London Symphony Orchestra, Bernstein's proposal was to conduct a mini-TV festival of forty-five minute concerts, preceded by interviews. He chose to focus on symphonic works of the 20th century and to entitle the cycle the "Symphonic Twilight," featuring Stravinsky's Sacre du Printemps, Sibelius' Symphony No. 5 and Shostakovitch's Symphony No. 5, which is not included here. The public rushed to the Fairfield Concert Hall in Croydon and the concerts also gathered a great number of televiewers. This successful concert triggered a great number of contracts for televised concerts, over the two decades that followed, he conducted no less than two hundred music films.

History has it that Stravinsky himself was impressed by Bernstein's interpretation of Le Sacre du Printemps. When reviewing various recordings of his work, the composer annotated Bernstein's 1959 version with the single word "Wow!." The video shows Bernstein responding physically to the moods of the score. For him, knowing the story of the ballet helped to understanding and appreciating the music. The rhythmically beguiling and the percussive explosions mirror the basic image of the ballet: a girl dancing herself to death. Bernstein often said that he wanted to feel he was re-composing the music he conducted; with physical freedom and intellectual control, he gives a legendary impersonation both of the raw energy of the piece and of the sensitivity of its lyrical passages.

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