Leonard Bernstein, the emblem of 1960s New York and icon of the time when classical music still mattered, would have been 91 this week.
Bernstein came onto the scene when art music was cool. Here was a 25-year-old with a wild haircut on stage with the New York Philharmonic. The kid was a rock star when Mahler was still considered rock!
To get an idea of the world during Bernstein’s prime: For nine years, from 1962-1971, CBS broadcast more than four dozen of Bernstein’s Young Person’s Concerts LIVE from New York and these shows were syndicated to more than 40 countries. Think about that. A major TV conglomerate (”suits”) broadcasting hours of classical music to every set in America for almost a decade, and advertisers paid for it. Today we get 12 episodes of Harper’s Island from CBS if the ratings hold water.
Unfortunately, Lenny probably wouldn’t much recognize or appreciate what the audience of the Philharmonic and its counterparts is now: It’s old. I mean really old. If you go to a concert these days, expect to wait between movements for the old people to stop coughing. I’m serious! Lorin Maazel even steps off the podium occasionally.
So what happened here? Why didn’t the next generation follow their parents into the orchestra halls of America? It is said our nation’s constantly-shrinking attention span got the best of art music. As Robert Putnam’s sick-with-research Bowling Alone notes: urban sprawl and the logarithmic growth of the availability of everything have made in-person social events that last more than 15 minutes pretty much outr
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