The weekend of 5-6 December presents a great opportunity for anyone who wants to delve deeper into the meaning of music, guided by one of the medium’s great communicators and geniuses, Leonard Bernstein. In two days of events at Queen Elizabeth Hall, The Bernstein Project Artistic Director Marin Alsop, film curator Humphrey Burton, Southbank Centre and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment present a series of events bringing to life Bernstein’s famous Harvard Norton Lectures on the poetics of music The Unanswered Question. Taking Chomsky’s Language and Mind as a starting inspiration these six televised lectures were a revolution in the presentation of musical thought and analysis, drawing rave reactions from his Harvard audience and television viewers alike when they first appeared in 1973.
On Saturday evening at 7pm, Alsop presents Mozart’s 40th symphony in the spirit of the Norton Lectures, deconstructing, exploring and then performing one of Mozart’s darkest and most dramatic late symphonies. At 10pm she repeats the performance with an accent on informality, in one the OAE’s inimitable one hour Night Shift performances.
Before these concerts, at 5.45pm, I’ll be talking to Humphrey Burton, who will set the scene for the evening events, introducing the Discovery concerts and the Norton lectures in the first two of which Bernstein focuses on Mozart’s 40th symphony as a way of brilliantly analysing the origins and development of music and language. The talk will include film excerpts from these first two lectures, Musical Phonology and Musical Syntax.
On Sunday morning at 11 a.m. I will return with Burton as he introduces a complete showing of the third lecture, Musical Semantics, in which Bernstein virtuosically dissects Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, concluding the film lecture with a performance of the entire symphony in a performance with Bernstein and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. To end the morning session, Burton, a friend, biographer, and also producer of many of Bernstein’s films, muses on the three remaining lectures in the series, The Delights and Dangers of Ambiguity, The Twentieth Century Crisis, and The Poetry of the Earth.
Together these events offer an unprecedented opportunity to understand the way the music was composed, and what it means. As a composer, conductor, linguist and philosopher Bernstein takes us on a journey into the music in a way that many think has never been bettered.
Marshall Marcus, Southbank Centre Head of Music