Monday, July 13, 2009

Heckler at Leonard Bernstein Event - ME!

A while back I attended what would prove to be, on the whole, a moving appreciation of Leonard Bernstein’s life and work. The 90th anniversary of his birth recently passed and New York had pulled out all the stops in recalling his many contributions to the life of the city, especially as conductor of the Philharmonic, but, of course, also as composer and educator. There were events at Carnegie Hall, the Paley Center, Lincoln Center, and many other places celebrating him as person and artist. One small part of this celebration included a panel presentation of people who knew him personally, all of whom gathered at Lincoln Center before a large audience. Each member of the panel recounted experiences with Bernstein offering lively anecdotes and warm remembrances. The sole exception was the final speaker, whose name I cannot recall, who spoke for 20 minutes without once mentioning the person being honored; he talked only of himself. As the audience became increasingly restless, I could feel an unwelcome but irresistible impulse rising up inside me. Another three minutes went by without even a casual mention of LB, and so inevitably from my fourth row center seat I called out in a clear and resonant voice: “Don’t forget Mr. Bernstein!” Our self-centered speaker stopped in mid-sentence and said something like “Oh, I was just getting to him. Shall I continue or…” From the back came, “Stop now!” Then another voice, “We’ve heard enough.” The flustered moderator insisted that the speaker be allowed to finish, but somehow the poor fellow had lost his way and could only think of more things to say about himself, still volunteering nothing about Bernstein. I then went too far and announced, “I think you’d do us all a favor by concluding your remarks immediately.” A kind of spectator revolt resulted with some audience members declaring “enough,” and still others shouting “let him finish.” It all became rather embarrassing and our poor, egocentric panel member was never able to bring his remarks to a proper conclusion.

At the intermission, that would precede a beautiful and uneventful set of remembrances from Bernstein’s children, a woman came up to me and thanked me profusely for putting that “windbag” in his place. I was feeling very proud of myself when I turned around and was accosted by an irate audience member who told me I had no right to speak for the audience, particularly with my second remark. I began to defend myself, but I had to admit even as I feigned righteous indignation, that, of course, it had been ridiculous for me to say aloud that this guy would be doing everyone a favor by clamming up. How did I know that?

What a wild afternoon! In a way, it was fun and certainly unique, but I couldn’t stop think about how uncivil I had been as well. What would Lenny have thought? Even though he was a man of strong and sometimes radical opinions, I think he would have been disappointed in me. All the testimony we heard that day reinforced the idea that he loved just about everybody, even the windbags. Maybe I’ll learn yet how to conduct myself properly in a public setting, but there are people who just rub you the wrong way. For instance, there was the time William Kristol, the arch conservative, spoke a few weeks before the Presidential election at the 92nd Street Y and I was in the second row…But I’ll reserve that story for another blog.

1 comment:

  1. O was some Pow'r the giftie gie us
    To see ousels as ithers see us!
    It would frae monie a blunder free us....