Movie review: Maestro

Bradley Cooper

I really wanted to see the film Maestro. It is about one of my favorite cultural icons, Leonard Bernstein, who I wrote about in 2018.

The movie was playing at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany. As it turned out, it was for only ONE WEEK before it landed on Netflix. My wife and I were going to go on Saturday, then Tuesday, but life got in the way. I saw it on Thursday’s last day in a theater (a/k/a yesterday).

Bradley Cooper recently earned two Golden Globe nominations for this film, one for Best Director – Motion Picture and a second for Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama. The biopic was also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama. Carey Mulligan earned a nomination for Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama.

Yet, while I appreciated Cooper’s effort – as one of the two dozen patrons at my 3:30 showing noted, Cooper engaged in a labor of love –  his Bernstein felt clinical, at arm’s length much of the time.  As Maxwell Rabb of the Chicago Reader mused, “Cooper’s second film offers a discordant narrative—a blend of compelling moments with flat notes.”

Hannah Brown from the Jerusalem Post noted, “The script” – by Cooper and Josh Singer – “isn’t bad so much as wrong… barely giving a sense of why Bernstein was such an iconic figure on the American cultural landscape, and focusing on some of the blandest and least interesting aspects of his life.”

THE highlight

Likely, the best thing in the movie is Lenny’s conducting the Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony at Ely Cathedral. Cooper spent a lot of time getting Bernstein’s joy just right. Indeed, I enjoyed the film more from that point forward.

Carey Mulligan was a revelation as Lenny’s wife, Felicia Montealegre Cohn. She was sometimes a muse, often a protector of their children, and she tolerated his infidelities but only to a point.

As this article noted, “Maestro jumps between different periods, using black and white and color to depict the contrasting dynamics of Bernstein and Felicia‘s relationship. The intentional use of different aspect ratios in the film symbolizes the differences in their relationship between the two periods.”

I didn’t love Maestro. Still, I’m interested in how others view it. It received an 80% positive score from the critics and 83% from the audience.

L Bernstein; Oakroom Artists – 1st Pres, 2 Nov

The Chichester Psalms (Leonard Bernstein, 1965) is “tuneful, tonal and contemporary, featuring modal melodies and unusual meters.”

Takeyce Walter
piece by Takeyce Walter

My sister Leslie noted on Facebook recently that the movie West Side Story opened this month, specifically October 18, back in 1961. We saw it together with our mother and our baby sister Marcia.

It assuredly wasn’t in 1961, but it was in a movie theater, and we were still kids under 11. I remember that the ticket seller thought the film was too intense for the children, especially the youngest.

West Side Story remains my favorite musical, one I know quite well, and I saw a splendid rendering in western Massachusetts in the summer of 2018. Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story Will Go Back to Basics. “Screenwriter Tony Kushner explains that the new movie will take its cues from the original Broadway show, not the Oscar-winning 1961 film—and that ‘no one will leave the movie without hearing all the classic songs.'”

On November 2, First Friday at First Presbyterian Church will feature 100 years of Leonard Bernstein. The choir, including guest singers, and instrumentalists, will be performing the Chichester Psalms (1965), which is “tuneful, tonal and contemporary, featuring modal melodies and unusual meters.” The text is from Psalms 108, 100, 23, 2, 131, and 133.

There will also be selections from other Leonard Bernstein works, including Mass, Candide, On the Town and the aforementioned West Side Story.

In the gallery, the Oakwood Artists will be doing a pop-up show.

The gallery opens at 5:30 p.m. The concert starts at 6:00 p.m.

This is a free and family-friendly event.

First Presbyterian Church of Albany
362 State St at the corner of Willett St
across from Washington Park
Albany, New York 12210
Some Bernstein conducting

Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Gary Graffman, piano, recorded with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic in 1964.

Academic Festival Overture by Brahms, with a great Lenny anecdote

Leonard Bernstein would have been 100

Leonard Bernstein described how composers are able to create an astonishing variety of musical works from just thirteen notes of the Western tuning system

Leonard BernsteinThis is true: I have a stuffed lion named Lenny, named after Leonard Bernstein. He has a wild and magnificent mane, just like the composer/educator often had when he was conducting a symphony.

If he only did those Young People’s Concerts on CBS-TV during my growing-up period (1958-1972) , that would have been enough to make him an important figure in my life.

But, of course, he also composed the music to West Side Story, a movie I saw when I was about 10, and which I’ve seen in various iterations of plays and ballets at least a half dozen times. The Quintet version of Tonight was revelatory.

Leonard Bernstein had such a vast and varied career, I can hardly do it justice.

Here’s a bunch of links:

Leonard Bernstein: Young People’s Concerts | What Does Music Mean (Part 1 of 4) (1958)

Bernstein and Glenn Gould: Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D minor (BWV 1052) (1960)

West Side Story -Tonight Quintet and Chorus (1961)

Bernstein explains beautifully and eloquently exactly what a conductor does

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D Major, “The Titan” with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra , conducted by Leonard Bernstein

His Overture to Candide, conducted by Bernstein himself

Leonard Bernstein, conductor AND pianist, George Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue – New York Philharmonic, the Royal Albert Hall (1976)

Leonard Bernstein – Kennedy Center Honors, 1980

Jaquandor writing about John Williams: “There’s a wonderful essay by Leonard Bernstein called ‘The Infinite Variety of Music,’ which appears in the book of the same title. The essay is actually the script of one of the wonderful episodes he used to do for the educational teevee program Omnibus.

“In this particular episode, Bernstein described how composers are able to create an astonishing variety of musical works from just thirteen notes of the Western tuning system, by reducing things even further and showing how a number of great composers wrote amazing pieces, many of which are very familiar, by using as their main motif the exact same four-note melody.”

Bernstein at 100

Religion & Spirituality In The Music Of Leonard Bernstein

10 Must-See Artifacts in This Powerful Centennial Exhibition

Amy Biancolli interview with Jamie Bernstein, Lenny’s daughter

October rambling #2: absquatulate

I have a stuffed lion with a wild mane which I named Lenny.

The office move is mostly complete, but the inner offices are chaos. The recovery goes well, so now I’m trying to catch up on everything that got put on hold.

How Propaganda Works.

The Rise and Impact of Digital Amnesia.

Re: Hassan v. City of New York lawsuit against the NYPD over its surveillance program targeting Muslims. Plus the dreadful Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Greenland Is Melting Away.

MIT Technology Review: Why Self-Driving Cars Must Be Programmed to Kill.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

There are No Innocent Black People.

Buck Rogers and the Copyright Trolls.

Plus The Orwell estate is cracking down on people who dare to use the number “1984” without permission.

Pope Francis has NOT endorsed Bernie Sanders for President.

The 1,657 TV shows that spent less time on the air than the Hillary Clinton Benghazi hearing.

Pastor, former Arkansas governor, and current Republican candidate Mike Huckabee Suggests Poor People Should Be Sold Into Slavery For Stealing.

The Atlantic has a LOT of interesting videos on various topics, among them ‘Don’t Sneak’: A Father’s Command to His Gay Son in the 1950s.

Say “no” more often. You’ll be happier and healthier.

6 Phrases With Surprisingly Racist Origins.

Jim Crow-Era Travel Guides for Black Families Now Online Through Schomburg. Hey, I wrote about this.

Arthur does some Internet Wading: Truth and facts. I almost picked items 2 and 3 myself for this feature in my blog.

There’s an online petition to Congress to end Daylight Saving Time, which I signed, because DST makes no sense.

Happy 600th Anniversary of The Battle of Agincourt.

Cole slaw killed Ogden Nash.

I still need to see more films with Maureen O’Hara, the lovely actress who died recently at the age of 95.

Albany basketball legend Luther “Ticky” Burden died.

Marty Ingels, R.I.P. I watched I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster the year it was on. And Al Molinaro died, who I watched on The Odd Couple and Happy Days.

‘First Lady of Jazz,’ Lee Shaw, dies at 89. I talked with her a couple times during breaks in her sets. She was a wonderfully gracious, and an amazingly talented musician.

This month marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the passing of Leonard Bernstein. True: I have a stuffed lion with a wild mane which I named Lenny, in honor of the composer and conductor.

The Beatles “Revolution” Original Video, Remastered, New Audio Mix. My FAVORITE iteration of this song. Also, A Day In The Life.

LISTEN NOW, before it disappears. First Listen: Bob Dylan, ‘The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12’.

There’s a reason so many people love ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’

K-Chuck Radio: The Rocshire Memories. Featuring a song by Eddie Munster.

The three times Nasreddin was called upon to speak in public.

The word absquatulate came out of an odd fad in America in the 1830s for making playful words that sounded vaguely Latin. My spell checker recognizes it, too, Dan!

Now I Know: The Epidemic That Saved Lives and Winnie the Pooh-Poohed and Cattaxtrophy.

Advice From the Creator of Calvin and Hobbes; Comic by Zen Pencils. Words by Bill Watterson, art by Gavin Aung Than.

About comic book inking.

Ken Levine mentions Oscar Levant, confuses readers, comes up with a list of some people you might want to know.

Bob and Ray, and Dave Garroway, plugging the new show called TODAY.

The TWCQT gang reflects on which penciler/inker teams have had the most impact on them.

Alan David Doane Remembering His Mom on Her 90th Birthday.


Would-be Bond: The naked truth. “Enter New Zealander Roger Green – ex-All Blacks rugby union player, ex-sheep farmer, and party animal.”

Colonial Heights (VA) mourns loss of Roger Green of the Chamber of Commerce. “Green had been battling Urachal cancer, a rare form of bladder cancer, for several months. He was 64 years old.”

Lenten music Friday: Leonard Bernstein’s Mass

Was Leonard Bernstein’s Mass a “brilliant failure”?

leonard.bernsteinIt started with an e-mail I sent to Dustbury about some guy complaining that a piece of sacred music that sounds like the theme of My Little Pony; Dustbury wrote about this. He then replied to me, “I imagine he also didn’t like Leonard Bernstein’s 1971 Mass, and especially this [LISTEN].

I agreed that the original writer was unnecessarily fussy. “He probably hates the mass in the vernacular. But the church has tried to be with it.” Saint Thomas of Lehrer, e.g. [LISTEN].

But that taste of Bernstein’s Mass made me have to LISTEN to the whole Mass. (The version of the excerpted bit above starts at 55:00.) It is fascinating, strange.

Someone told me recently that the Mass was a “brilliant failure.” I’m not sure I LIKE it, exactly/entirely, and I’d be hard-pressed to sit through the whole thing in one sitting because a little of it sometimes goes a long way. But as Dustbury noted: “Even a revised ritual is still a ritual.”

Those televised Young People’s Concerts for CBS-TV, conducted by Bernstein, were huge for my appreciation of classical music when I was growing up. And, of course, I adore West Side Story. I have a lion named Lenny, whose mane reminds me of the late conductor’s hair.

One last thing: the full Mass is part of something called the Proms. I would have had no idea what that meant except that I had read something from Melanie on that very topic, that she listens to them on BBC Radio.

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