Young People's Concert
Koussevitzky Music Shed
- Lenox, MA
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Building on a tradition of educational concerts for young listeners that dated back decades, in 1958 Leonard Bernstein, who had just begun his tenure as conductor of the New York Philharmonic, initiated his own series of "Young People's Concerts" to be broadcast on CBS television. The fourteen-season series-totaling fifty-three episodes in all-became a model for educational programming, making a point of avoiding condescension and pedantry, not shying away from the unfamiliar, and allowing Bernstein's boundless enthusiasm and charisma to carry the day. It was lightning in a bottle-only rarely have similar programs approached the show's popularity since it went off the air in 1972. Bernstein's guests included Aaron Copland, the then-fifteen-year-old Israeli composer Shulamit Ran, singers Marni Nixon and Walter Berry, conductors Seiji Ozawa and James DePreist, and the "New York Rock and Roll Ensemble," among many others. Between 2004 and 2013, these programs were released on DVD.
The first few programs, beginning with the introductory "What Is Music?" telecast in January 1958, had a broad focus-American music, orchestration, the nature of classical music, and the like. As the series progressed, there were segments on more specific subjects-the music of Mahler, Sibelius, Hindemith, and Charles Ives, birthday celebrations of Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, and Dmitri Shostakovich, the acoustics of concert halls, and an entire show on Beethoven's opera Fidelio-subject matter that few elementary educational curricula would dare broach today. But perhaps Bernstein was onto something there: by trusting and challenging his countless young listeners to go beyond their own expectations of themselves, he planted seeds of curiosity that long continued to bear fruit.