Make It A Superfecta
Monday Nightcap

The First MTV

Take your pick: Lenny as New Yorker. Lenny as Social Activist. Lenny as TV Star. Carnegie's Bernstein Discovery Day had all three on Saturday. And, they could have easily squeezed in half-a-dozen more of this multi-faceted composer-conductor-musician. Unfortunately, the day was long on talk and short on music, which felt like a real miss, given the chance to hear some of Lenny's rarely-heard chamber works (particularly the sonatas for clarinet and violin, or the Arias and Barcarolles.)  


At least the first session - which dealt with Lenny's long and innovative relationship with television - had credibility on its side, thanks largely to the presence of Mary Ahern and Roger Englander, the producers of Omnibus (1952-1957) and the Young People's Concerts (1958-1972), respectively. Ahern and Englander were there at the beginning, the so-called "Golden Age of Television." in the 1940's. They played clips and shared stories about Lenny's antics: how he would memorize entire scripts in the age before TelePrompTers, how he would show up at 6am in order to rehearse for the live broadcasts, how he would have lengthy re-write sessions right before going on air, smoking and greeting passersby. The kind of stuff that makes today's TV feel small and inconsequential.


They also managed to snag singer-songwriter Janis Ian, who apparently interrupted her own tour to talk about her 1967 Omnibus appearance at the age of 16, at which she was invited by Lenny to perform her hit single "Society's Child": a controversial song about an interracial romance that resulted in wide censorship and vicious attacks against Ian. Lenny didn't care about any of that: all he heard was a brilliant, groundbreaking song that incorporated both complex classical techniques and the latest innovations in electronics and pop. In other words, the kind of song that deserved to be heard on primetime national television.


Ian credits her entire career to the appearance, during which Lenny was clearly moved by her precocious ability: 

"How did you ever write such a thing at such a young age?" he asked in the clip, holding her hand. "I congratulate you on what I'm certain will be a long and brilliant career."

When the lights came back on, everyone exploded in choked up applause, Ian included. It was a reminder that, for all his triumphs, this was Lenny's greatest legacy: the ability to motivate, cultivate, and reassure an entire generation of musicians, who have in turn inspired a whole new generation that are just now getting their legs. (More pics below.)



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