Leonard Bernstein, JFK and Yo-Yo Ma walk into a bar

Sunday, 26 August, 2018

#BernsteinAt100 “is the world-wide celebration of the 100th birthday of Leonard Bernstein, the composer, conductor, educator, musician, cultural ambassador, and humanitarian.” So declares the website devoted to the artist who was born on 25 August 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

On 29 November 1962, when the cellist Yo-Yo Ma was just 7 years old, he played at a benefit concert for an audience that included President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline. Leonard Bernstein introduced Ma to the crowd, saying: “Now, here’s a cultural image for you to ponder as you listen. A seven-year-old Chinese cellist playing old French music for his new American compatriots.”

Bernstein once said that the chief requirements of a conductor are that “he be humble before the composer; that he never interpose himself between the music and the audience; that all his efforts, however strenuous or glamorous, be made in the service of the composer’s meaning — the music itself, which, after all, is the whole reason for the conductor’s existence.”

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