It was 20 years ago today…

19 August, 1990. Doesn’t seem that long ago really. Leonard Bernstein conducted his final concert, ending with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He died just five days later.

He wrote the music for West Side Story and more, but really the man was best known as a conductor. His conducting style is perhaps best described as exuberant. He strayed far from classic conducting techniques, using his whole body to coax the best out of his orchestra, and had evident fun doing so. One of his tricks was to rehearse an entire Mahler symphony by acting out every phrase for the orchestra to convey the precise meaning, each one accompanied by a vocal manifestation of the effect required.

I don’t have the recording of his farewell concert – he had a coughing fit during the Beethoven part, and it almost had to be called off – but here are the first two movements, conducted by Carlos Kleiber:

Just beautiful.

ps – The official Guinness world record for the world’s largest baton is currently held by Kenton J. Hetrick, who on 14 October 2006 conducted the Harvard University Band in the introduction to “Also Sprach Zarathustra” with a baton 10 feet (3.0 m) long.

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