On this date in 1962, a pre-performance speech by legendary conductor Leonard Bernstein, seen by some as an attack on guest pianist — the almost equally as legendary Glenn Gould — caused quite a stir in the Classical music world. The concert was to feature Gould performing Brahms' "First Piano Concerto," but apparently the pianist and music director (Bernstein) disagreed on how it was to be performed. The New York Philharmonic concert came towards the end of the orchestra's final season at Carnegie Hall.
The disagreement was largely over tempo — Gould felt the composition should be played very slowly. Before the intermission, the orchestra played selections by Carl Nielsen. Fearful that Gould would not even show up (he was notorious for last-minute cancellations), Bernstein had the Philharmonic prepared to play Brahms' First Symphony just in case. Gould showed, but to prepare the audience for the unorthodox performance, Bernstein took to the podium and delivered the controversial introduction/disclaimer/diss. (Bernstein delivered the same speech at a preview performance the night before.)
Don't be frightened. Mr. Gould is here. He will appear in a moment. I'm not, um, as you know, in the habit of speaking on any concert except the Thursday night previews, but a curious situation has arisen, which merits, I think, a word or two. You are about to hear a rather, shall we say, unorthodox performance of the Brahms D Minor Concerto, a performance distinctly different from any I've ever heard, or even dreamt of for that matter, in its remarkably broad tempi and its frequent departures from Brahms' dynamic indications. I cannot say I am in total agreement with Mr. Gould's conception and this raises the interesting question: "What am I doing conducting it?" I'm conducting it because Mr. Gould is so valid and serious an artist that I must take seriously anything he conceives in good faith and his conception is interesting enough so that I feel you should hear it, too.
But the age old question still remains: "In a concerto, who is the boss; the soloist or the conductor?" The answer is, of course, sometimes one, sometimes the other, depending on the people involved. But almost always, the two manage to get together by persuasion or charm or even threats to achieve a unified performance. I have only once before in my life had to submit to a soloist's wholly new and incompatible concept and that was the last time I accompanied Mr. Gould. But, but this time the discrepancies between our views are so great that I feel I must make this small disclaimer. Then why, to repeat the question, am I conducting it? Why do I not make a minor scandal — get a substitute soloist, or let an assistant conduct? Because I am fascinated, glad to have the chance for a new look at this much-played work; Because, what's more, there are moments in Mr. Gould's performance that emerge with astonishing freshness and conviction. Thirdly, because we can all learn something from this extraordinary artist, who is a thinking performer, and finally because there is in music what Dimitri Mitropoulos used to call "the sportive element", that factor of curiosity, adventure, experiment, and I can assure you that it has been an adventure this week collaborating with Mr. Gould on this Brahms concerto and it's in this spirit of adventure that we now present it to you
Many critics wrote about the intro and viewed it as the conductor's way of saying, "If this sucks, it's his fault." And many took Gould to task for his interpretation of the music (though some musicologists later said Gould's version was a correct reading of the material). Gould, for his part, said he enjoyed the performance and liked that it caused some in the audience to boo. Columbia had planned to release a recording of the performance but backed off given the controversy. Bootlegs spread like wildfire and Sony Classical, years later (in 1998), released the recording with Bernstein's remarks in tact. In the liner notes, Gould is quoted as saying, "Soloists and conductors disagree all the time. Why should this be hidden from the public, especially if both parties still give their all?" Bernstein also didn't seem too bothered by the controversy and he never stopped praising Gould's unique talent.
Here's a clip of Bernstein and Gould getting along just fine in 1960, performing Bach's "Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor."
Click on for Born This Day featuring Warren Haynes, Gerry Mulligan, Merle Haggard and Cobra Starship's Alex Suarez.
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing an April 6 birthday include Jazz legend Gerry Mulligan (1927); Country music pioneer Merle Haggard (1937); member of early German electronic music adventurers Tangerine Dream, Christopher Franke (1953); guitarist for the Allman Brothers and his own Gov't Mule, Warren Haynes (1960); cheery Jazz guitarist/bandleader John Pizzarelli (1960); Rock innovator with the Pixies, singer/songwriter Frank Black (1965); bassist for the Fellini of Post Rock, Sigur Ros, Georg Hólm (1976); bassist for Prog/Metal faves Opeth, Martin Mendez (1978); singer/songwriter for Pop/Rock band Say Anything, Max Bemis (1984); and Cobra Starship bassist Alex Suarez (1981).
Cobra Starship recently popped up in the news when they volunteered to perform at the prom of Northern Ohio's Chardron High School, which, at the end of February, suffered though a school shooting tragedy that left three students dead and the whole small-town very shook up. But the community (and many outside of it) rallied in support immediately. Groups in the area raised over a half-million dollars to help the victims and others involved. For this year's prom, the school were the runaway winners of a local radio contest to have the dance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum in Cleveland.
Earlier this week, it was announced that Cobra Starship contacted the radio station when they learned Chardron has won and offered to play at the prom for free. The prom is coming up May 5 and is sure to be a special, emotional night for the kids.
A graduate of the school now studying in London, Allison Piccioni, wrote a song about the deadly shooting and posted it on line. She says she hopes to raise additional funds for the school and victims; she'll begin selling a recording of the song after it gets 100,000 views on YouTube, then donate proceeds to the families. Check the song out below: