Leonard Bernstein has a secure place in history as a marvelously
successful conductor and composer, the first conductor from the U.S.
to achieve worldwide renown. In a career that was filled with other
honors and achievements, Bernstein's Young People's Concerts
stand out as one of his most notable achievements. Loving music as he
did, he wanted to share its beauty with the younger generation. And
so Bernstein conceived of the Young People's Concerts, and
with the New York Philharmonic symphony orchestra to work with, he
created a program that captivated audiences and won awards, from its
first broadcast in 1958 to its last in 1972. The series – with
each episode created and written by Bernstein himself – came to
a total of 53 episodes, 25 of which appear on this DVD set. It was
truly a labor of love, and we can see that very clearly in the
boundless energy and enthusiasm that Bernstein shows in each and
The Young People's Concerts are an inventive mix of commentary
and musical performances, designed to teach about music while also
fostering enthusiasm and love for music as well. In each one,
Bernstein addresses a particular topic, from "What is American
Music?" to ""What is a Melody?", using various
pieces of music to illustrate his explanations. Sometimes, this
example is just a phrase or two, perhaps played by Bernstein himself
on the piano; other times, we hear the entire piece in full.
Ironically, more than forty years after the Young People's
Concerts first aired, I suspect that adults will appreciate the
program far more than children, who will probably have some
difficulty overcoming the "old" look of the episodes. The
perfect audience for this program is now that of young adults and
adults who have an interest in music but not much knowledge about it.
For me, the program was ideal: I enjoy listening to classical music,
but apart from knowing the names and best-known work of a few famous
composers, I was pretty much a blank slate when it came to
understanding music. That's not to say that viewers who are already
somewhat informed about music won't find anything of interest: quite
the opposite, in fact. My husband was a useful test subject in this
regard, as he grew up listening to classical music and in general had
a much more solid musical education than I did; he enjoyed the Young
People's Concerts as much as I did. Even if some of the topics
aren't new to you, Bernstein's approach is sure to bring out some
interesting nuances in the material or in the compositions that he
has chosen to illustrate his topic.
To say that these programs are "informative" is to put it
mildly. Watching the Young People's Concerts was like being in
a room and suddenly seeing doors opening up all over the place, doors
I hadn't even know existed. It's hard to pick examples, because every
single episode opens up new avenues for understanding and
appreciating music, from suddenly recognizing the jazz influences in
"Rhapsody in Blue" in "What is American Music?",
to wrapping my brain around the fascinating concepts presented in
"What is a Mode?", to appreciating the way that a composer
makes decisions about what instruments to use in "What is
Orchestration?" And that's before we even consider the episodes
that focus on understanding and appreciating specific composers, such
as Gustav Mahler, Sibelius, or Shostakovich. After every one, I'd
walk away amazed by the new insights I had into music.
It's no big surprise that I've been listening to a lot more classical
music lately... including the full versions of pieces that Bernstein
used in one of the episodes.
What makes the program shine, of course, is Leonard Bernstein
himself. In each hour-long episode, he deftly leads the audience
through a developing understanding of the topic at hand, starting
with the basics and building up to a more complex view. He always
manages to explain even the most difficult concepts in a way that's
clear and understandable, while at the same time never patronizing
the audience in the least. The musical pieces woven into each episode
are essential, serving as far more than just examples, because
Bernstein carefully explains what we should be listening for. Many
times, he'll work through a piece of music bit by bit, showing how it
works, and then finish up with the orchestra playing all the way
through it without commentary, so that we can experience it with our
new-found understanding. Many of the musical examples are given by
the orchestra, but often Bernstein simply sits down at the piano and
gives us a quick example, by playing or singing, of what he's talking
In this program, Leonard Bernstein is to music what Carl Sagan is to
science in Cosmos:
he's the perfect guide to a fascinating new world, because he is
himself part of that world. Bernstein talks about music with a
passion that couldn't possibly be expressed by a different narrator,
even a good one. Especially since Bernstein has a sense of humor
about the subject, the programs are never dry in the least. It's
always very evident that Bernstein is enjoying himself immensely, and
wants you, in the audience, to share in his enjoyment; it's
impossible not to have his enthusiasm rub off on you.
If you enjoy listening to music – it doesn't even have to be
classical music in particular – then Leonard Bernstein's
Young People's Concerts will be a real treat. So you can get an
idea of what's in store for you in this massive set, here's a list of
What Does Music Mean?
What is American Music?
What is Orchestration?
What Makes Music Symphonic?
What is Classical Music?
Humor in Music
What is a Concerto?
Who is Gustav Mahler?
Folk Music in the Concert Hall
What is Impressionism?
Happy Birthday, Igor Stravinsky
What is a Melody?
The Latin American Spirit
Jazz in the Concert Hall
What is Sonata Form?
A Tribute to Sibelius
Musical Atoms: A Study of Intervals
The Sound of an Orchestra
A Birthday Tribute to Shostakovich
What is a Mode?
A Toast to Vienna in 3/4 Time
Quiz-Concert: How Musical Are You?
Berlioz Takes a Trip
Two Ballet Birds
Fidelio: A Celebration of Life
Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts is a massive
nine-disc set, which Kultur has packaged very attractively in a
fairly compact format. Each DVD has its own hard plastic page, with
all nine bound together in "book" format with a sturdy
cardboard cover. An 18-page episode guide is included as well.
The 25 episodes presented here were aired over a number of years,
between 1958 and 1970, so it should come as no surprise that the
image quality is neither perfect nor consistent. The episodes start
out in black-and-white and switch to color partway through the set
(Bernstein even comments, in the first episode that's broadcast in
color, that he's wearing a "modish" colored tie for the
Overall, the episodes are consistently clean and free of noise. Some
episodes show more wear and tear than the others in terms of
scratches in the print; the earlier episodes, not surprisingly, are
more worn than later ones. In the first couple of episodes, viewers
may note an odd fishbowl effect when the
camera is moving, but this is an artifact of the way it was filmed,
not a problem with the transfer (and soon enough, better cameras were
used and this effect disappears). The image is consistently soft and
blurred, as we might expect from the age and nature of the source
material. Contrast is handled satisfactorily in the black-and-white
episodes, and while colors are rather muted in the later episodes,
they're acceptable as well. All the episodes appear in their original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1.
Two audio options are presented: a Dolby 2.0 track, and an obviously
remastered Dolby 5.1 track. In terms of sound quality, there's no
difference; however, the 5.1 track has spread the sound out among all
the channels to more closely approximate the feeling of being in the
concert hall. I enjoyed the more immersive effect of the 5.1 track,
and I'd recommend that as the soundtrack to listen to if possible.
The overall sound quality is acceptable. In the earlier episodes,
there is noticeable crackling and hissing to be heard in the
background; this diminishes to a more acceptable level as the series
proceeds. Fortunately, the music itself always sounds completely
natural and is never distorted at all. Likewise, Leonard Bernstein's
voice is always clear and completely easy to understand.
The one special feature is an 18-page "Special Collector's
Edition Episode Guide." This very useful booklet gives a
detailed description of each episode, including a brief summary of
Bernstein's program and a list of all the different musical pieces
played during that episode. It's a helpful reference.
enjoy music and you're interested in learning more about it, then
Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts is meant for you.
This fantastic nine-disc set compiles 25 of the educational programs
created by the famous conductor/composer, with Bernstein's
fascinating explanations about how music works illustrated by
performances from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The only
reason it gets less than a perfect score for the program content is
that it's not as accessible to modern children as when it was
produced; on the other hand, it's perhaps even more appealing for
adults at this point. This outstanding DVD set easily gets a "highly