Lotta dudes. I always kind of enjoyed the fact that the Vienna Philharmonic continued to exist as a seemingly racist and sexist organization until well into the 1990’s, like it was in a “I wonder if anyone will notice” time warp of caucasianness. I remember the Masters golf tournament coming under attack around the same time for the same reasons, and then Tiger Woods tore their shit up and added a splash of color, which may not have appeased the feminists at the time, but was at least something other than a white guy named Hootie and a bunch of questionable sportcoats. What was Vienna’s excuse? I don’t know, but they turned a pretty good deaf ear for a number of years. Going to work in that band must have been something like the musical equivalent of those Turkish spas where guys flagellate one another with reeds or whatever in a steam room.
No matter. Towards the end of Leonard Bernstein’s life he got into recording some stuff in Vienna that a) one would not expect to be all that great and b) was totally great. Why would anyone assume that a gay American Jew and a bunch of guys from one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the universe would be able to grasp so firmly the irony, sarcasm, wit, and intensity of Shostakovich? But Sweet Baby Jesus on the Cross did they get it, as evidenced by this otherworldly DVD of the Sixth and Ninth symphonies that you really ought to order right now.
The above performance of Sibelius 7 comes from a half-cycle that Lenny did between 1986 and 1990, which is also available on DVD. Sibelius has such a unique sound, and many of the finest interpretations I’ve encountered have involved Scandinavia in some way (two particularly notable cycles in my opinion being Berglund and Inkinen). Sibelius’ ability to channel the landscape of his native land is unsurpassed, and even though Vienna and Bernstein seems an odd pairing for such thoroughly enjoyable performances, they again rock the shit. Bernstein’s ability to generate passion and energy is a hallmark of his conducting, and the Seventh proves an ideal fit for his approach. It may not be my favorite performance, but it certainly doesn’t lack for creativity and emotion, and it is a rewarding journey.
Enjoy it, but wear sunglasses. My God it’s pale in there!