Gramophone magazine .....

Bernstein and Armstrong trampled over musical boundaries – and so should our orchestras and opera companies.

‘There is no “serious” music or “unserious” music, just good music and bad music’. I have heard those words, or at least the sentiment, attributed both to Leonard Bernstein and also to Louis Armstrong; and certainly both men shared a genius for breaking down barriers through a combination of sheer force of personality, raw musical talent and a burning desire to educate widely, or even to evangelise, about music. Earlier this month I spent a week literally walking in the footsteps of these two musical titans, visiting Armstrong’s unassuming home in the Corona district of Queen’s, unchanged since his widow died almost 40 years ago; attending a starry concert performance of Show Boat by the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center; and taking in the breathtakingly energetic, funny and also very touching new production of Lenny’s first stage musical, On the Town, currently playing at the Lyric Theatre on 42nd Street. For good measure, I sat in on a rehearsal in Carnegie Hall, where the Bernstein legend was born back in 1943, featuring two extraordinary African singers, Angélique Kidjo and Vusi Mahlasela, who were preparing for a sell-out concert celebrating the life and achievements of Miriam Makeba, ‘Mama Africa’. The week was an effective exercise in shattering artificial musical boundaries.

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