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Dinner with Lenny: The Last Long Interview with Leonard Bernstein

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  294 ratings  ·  51 reviews
Leonard Bernstein was arguably the most highly esteemed, influential, and charismatic American classical music personality of the twentieth century. Conductor, composer, pianist, writer, educator, and human rights activist, Bernstein truly led a life of Byronic intensity--passionate, risk-taking, and convention-breaking.

In November 1989, just a year before his death, Berns
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published January 8th 2013 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published December 7th 2012)
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Sep 23, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

Who can beat ‘im?

Well, I for one - for I can simply navigate over to Spotify and select from a wide variety of Otto Klemperer selections.

Why go nuts and choose Lennie and the NY Phil?

Otto Klemperer knew EXACTLY how a symphony should sound!

He didn’t groan ‘n grunt & gesticulate wildly, emoting thru every sweat gland - even if it WAS Lenny’s epochal version of Stravinsky’s Sacre - from back in the repressive nineteen-fifties!

Lenny made his point back then.

And ushered in a whole new age of
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Nov 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
While this is no more than an interview transcription, this is a wonderful capture of one of the most dynamic composers and conductors of the 20th century. Jonathan Cott sat down with Leonard Bernstein for "dinner," which was more of a 12 hour interview marathon. He published an excerpt version in Rolling Stone in 1989, the year before Bernstein's death. Now it is being released in its entirety.

What I love about this is how much Bernstein comes through, from the musical examples he sings or jump
It took author Jonathan Cott a year to nail down an interview with his musical idol, the conductor-composer-educator, Leonard Bernstein. Less than a year after the interview, Bernstein was dead. But for a whim by the conductor, who at that point was ignoring all requests for interviews, this one almost didn't happen.

But it did, and the first result was an 8,000-word article in Rolling Stone. Having four times more material than he could use for that magazine piece, Cott later expanded that trove
Sep 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Conductor, composer, pianist, writer, educator, lecturer, television host, human rights and peace activist, Leonard Bernstein was his own one-person Gesamtkunstwerk—"

Genius. Sheer genius. Over a 12 hour dinner at Bernstein's home in Connecticut, in 1989, the author speaks to the lively, passionate, chain-smoking man, in his late seventies revealing the inner workings of this remarkable man. Reading this book allowed me to "hear" Lenny's voice, to understand what made him tick. A complex, though
Alex Mohr
Aug 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful look into the mind and personality of an absolute genius. Somehow I find myself feeling both monumentally inadequate and incredibly inspired when reading the words of Lenny. A great read, and I guess finishing it on his birthday is a good sign!
Jul 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Beyond one music history course I took in college, of which I have retained very little, I feel ill-versed to converse about classical music or modern composers, so I have been seeking to bridge this void, however feeble. Appreciation for today's music can only be further enhanced by better understanding what came before it and what led to its evolution, so reading Bernstein's enthusiastic replies utterly encourages this endeavor. His words overflow with love for the genre, for he perceives each ...more
Tirzah Eleora
Sep 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: classical-music
Interesting enough. I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I knew more about Leonard Bernstein's life. I was expecting it to be more biographical but it was an interview with Bernstein on a smattering of subjects mostly centered on Berstein's thoughts on music, musicians and creativity. There are some interesting bits, but you have to plow through a lot of post-modern mumbo jumbo to get to them and I wouldn't pick this up again or even recommend it unless you're a huge classical music/orc ...more
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Loved every minute with the book! Bernstein's passion for music shines through on every page and he has a lot of stories to share. Highlights are how composers write music, how they are able to see the whole piece at once, how to get kids interested in classical music, what it means to be a conductor and finally if an orchestra should have its own sound. Bernstein strongly favored that a piece should always be played the way the composer had it in his mind.

I also enjoyed his anecdotes about Gust
Michael de Percy
Jun 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
A brief look at Jonathan Cott's profile at Rolling Stone magazine reveals a long list of interviews (including dinners) with some of the greats of music, literature, and film, including Bob Dylan, Susan Sontag, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Henry Miller, Richard Gere, and Francis Ford Coppola. I found this book, which was originally meant to be an article for Rolling Stone, refreshing. During the course of some twelve hours, Jonathan Cott interviews the conductor and composer most famous for West Si ...more
Madison Deppe
Jan 19, 2020 rated it really liked it

A beautiful glimpse into the mind and life of Leonard Bernstein.

I began with little idea of his character, and by the end had tears in my eyes. I also flagged about 20 pages so I can follow up on recordings and records, as well as saving a few of his moving quotes.

I am so glad that I read this and was introduced to such an incredible specimen of a human being. What a legacy.
Jan 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Quick and interesting read.
Chris Craddock
Dec 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Sehnsucht, langsamen schmachten

Bravo! Dinner with Lenny, the last long interview with the Maestro, Leonard Bernstein, is awesome. Jonathan Cott, a writer for Rolling Stone, interviewed the Maestro in November of 1989, just a year before his death. Cott was the perfect interlocuter for Bernstein, it seems. He was a fan and well versed in classical music, contemporary music (he has written a biography of Bob Dylan as well as many other books) poetry, literature, art, and religion. The abridged int
William Stanger
Sep 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Dinner with Lenny is one of the best books I have read so far this year. I really had no idea what to expect, feeling that I would at least find it interesting, but it was more than that and I found it really hard to put down in the end.

The book is a complete account of Leonard Bernstein's last full interview, which he gave to Jonathan Cott just a year before his death. A short version appeared in Rolling Stone, but Cott had felt at the time that it didn't really do justice, so the result was to
Gloria Feit
Nov 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a book, sub-titled “The Last Long Interview with Leonard Bernstein,” that is slight in size only, but which provides hefty and fascinating insight into the mind of the internationally renowned “Lenny” Bernstein, brilliant conductor, composer of orchestral works as well as legendary musical scores for Broadway, including On the Town, Wonderful Town, and West Side Story, and gave innumerable Young People’s Concerts at Carnegie Hall.

The author conducted a twelve-hour interview at Bernstein’
Holly Weiss
Many of us know Leonard Bernstein as an inspiring American composer and conductor. Jonathan Cott’s Dinner with Lenny reveals Leonard Bernstein the man, the musician, the composer, the conductor, the educator, the humanitarian. Bernstein lived life to the fullest. The twelve-hour interview is truncated into a 192-page book, but Bernstein’s exhilaration and passion leap off the pages.

Bernstein was a galvanizing conductor of the New York Philharmonic. Many called him the most extraordinary musicia
Brian Saul
Feb 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Light and delightful reading. Though I don't believe I followed Leonard Bernstein that closely when he was alive and never saw him in person, much less had dinner with him or read much about him, I've decided that I like him a lot as a person as well as a genius in the world of music. I don't think I could ever be a friend as his manner (as conveyed by author Jonathan Cott) is a little too frenetic and emotional for me to be able to manage for long. One might even wonder if he would, in today's ...more
Aug 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Towards the end of his life, famed composer, pianist, and conductor, Leonard Bernstein, rarely gave interviews. When a young Jonathan Cott requested an interview with the maestro for a story to appear in Rolling Stones magazine, he was certain Bernstein would decline his request. Fortunately, Bernstein was impressed with the writings of Cott and in November of 1989, a year before his death, invited him to dinner at his home.

In what is noted as Bernsteins last major interview, Cott has presented
Nov 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Dinner With Lenny, by Jonathan Cott, is a book I could not put down and read straight through. In fact, I read it a second time.

The last interview with Leonard Bernstein is an amazing accomplishment, both in writing, interviewing and in inspiration.

Leonard Bernstein's words are profound, as was his life and career as a renowned composer, conductor, pianist and so much more. There is a little known fact: Bernstein was an activist for humanity, and always tried to instill humanistic values within
Jan 02, 2013 rated it liked it

"Dinner with Lenny," leans toward the connoisseur and away from the classical music neophyte.

This book boils down 12 hours of conversation it's author, Jonathan Cott, had with composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein not too long before the classical music magician's death.

Here is a lion in winter, yet expansive and intellectually alert, settling old scores (pun intended), delving into decisions made, adventures in music endured, holding forth on the state of culture, politics and society, tho
Aug 23, 2013 rated it liked it
It's no great surprise that this short book caught my attention immediately and that I read it just as soon as I possibly could. Though primarily known as a composer of classical music, Bernstein also gave the world several well loved Broadway musicals including the groundbreaking Westside Story.

The author, Jonathan Cott, is an editor at Rolling Stone magazine and has been a Bernstein fan since childhood. This book is a chronicle of a twelve hour long interview he did with Bernstein in 1989, a
Jun 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
I have been fascinated with Leonard Bernstein for a number of years. This book caught my attention because Lenny did not give too many interviews, and I wanted to see what this book had to offer in the way of new perspective on the man. It is a very revealing interview, and Lenny comes across as genuine, passionate, and curious even as his health declined. He had a great deal of spirit and life, and that comes across quite well in this short but delightful book.

The book dragged a bit very brief
Linda Belmont
Aug 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book. One of my greatest regrets is never seeing Mr. Bernstein conduct in person. I must be content to watch DVD's. My copy is dog-eared with pages mentioning performances, symphonies, and quotes. I think my favorite quote of his is, "I was diagnosed as having emphysema in my mid-twenties, and to be dead by the age of thirty-five. Then they said I'd be dead by the age of forty-five. And fifty-five. Well, I beat the rap. I smoke. I drink. I stay up all night. I screw aroun ...more
Cameron Reilly
Oct 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I finished this book a couple of days ago. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Leonard Bernstein was a wonder of a man - composer, performer, teacher and someone who hate pomposity. He spent his life bringing music to life for others. My first introduction to Lenny was his album "What Is Jazz", which I listened to repeatedly in my 20s. In more recent times, I've watched "West Side Story" (I saw it as a kid but hadn't REALLY watched it until recently), and started watching his OMNIBUS series (http://www.amazo ...more
Cynthia Archer
Nov 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This was an amazing little book, and I thank the publisher for the opportunity to read this advance edition. I was enthralled from the very beginning by the dedication of the author to this project and his great reverence for Leonard Bernstein and classical music. Jonathan Cott presented the man and who he was through his questions of music. This was by no means a biography of Lenny, but rather a celebration of the man and what made him tick. It was simply done through his interview, but it was ...more
Jul 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
“The orchestra whirls me wonder than Uranus flies,
It wrenches such ardors from me I did not know I possess’d them,
It sails me, I dab with bare feet, they are lick’d by the indolent waves,
I am cut by bitter and angry hail, I lose my breath,
Steep’d amid honey’d morphine, my windpipe throttled in fakes of death,
At length let up again to feel the puzzle of puzzles,
And that we call Being.”

roll over beethoven, leonard bernstein is the heart of tanglewood and of all modern composer-conductors.
Jun 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Certainly worth a read if you are a lover of music. The book is a transcript of a 12+ hour dinner interview with Leonard Bernstein by Jonathan Cott at Bernstein's home. Bernstein, who probably never met a stranger, immediately treats Cott as an equal and a great friend. He freely discussed his thoughts on many of the scores he has conducted and his philosophy when approaching a work he has performed or is soon to perform. Cott is well versed in the topic and is definitely up to the task of this ...more
Oct 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
A quick read that leaves one looking for more. I read Cott's book Interview with Glenn Gould and this is more of the same. The author knows the subject and while it is a transcript one feels like he allows Lenny (as he did with Glen) lots of room to wander and it is the wandering that is so interesting. It is uncanny that the photos of Lenny chosen for the book in the 1940's look like a young Glenn Gould, they were artistically so similar, socially well not so much! This makes one want to know ...more
Igor Piovezan
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
"Dinner with Lenny" should be on the reading list of every Bernstein fan, for it provides the reader with a very intimate insight into the life of the greatest musician that has ever set foot on this planet. Thanks to Jonathan Cott's writing, the reader really feels as if Lenny was speaking to them directly, which is absolutely captivating. For people like me, who were born after his death and would never be able to actually communicate with him, this book offers a glimpse of what it would be li ...more
Jul 01, 2013 rated it really liked it

He was a genius; he was charismatic; he was multi-faceted beyond imagination; he was spiritual; he was political; he was erotic; he stretched boundaries; his energy was boundless; he was electrifying; his quest for learning never ended; but most of all he was one of the greatest teachers of the 20th century. This short book sent me scurrying to listen to certain of his recordings (Sibelius 1, Beethoven 9, Mahler anything) while reading his comments re particular rhythms, dynamics, motifs. So alm
Dec 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
The more I read about him, the more I like Leonard Bernstein. Sure, he was a crotchety old man by the end, but the dude was smart. Seriously, he knew everything about music and lots and lots of stuff about other stuff. The author bugged me a little with his wanna-be-know-it-all attitude, but maybe that's what Lenny always brings out in his guests. It's a quick read too, or maybe it just pulled me so I didn't notice the time passing.
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There's something great about a paperback book: They're perfect book club choices, you can throw them in your bag and go, and they've been out in...
54 likes · 12 comments
“So there I am standing in the wings. All atremble with these two little pills in my pocket … And I took them out and looked at them and said, ‘I’m going to do this on my own. I am not going to take any pills. I don’t want any aid from anybody but God,’ and I just flung them across the entire backstage and strode out, and that’s the last thing I remember until the end of the concert when I saw the entire audience there, standing and cheering and screaming. But from the time of my entrance until the time of my last exit I remember nothing. There’s nothing I can tell you. It was all a dream.” 4 likes
“Sometime between four o’clock and dawn, Bernstein returned home with a hangover. At nine in the morning, he was awakened by a phone call from the Philharmonic’s associate manager who told him, “Well, this is it. You have to conduct at three o’clock. No chance of a rehearsal. You will report at a quarter of three backstage.” 2 likes
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