The young Leonard Bernstein.
I have never been much of an exerciser, yet I find myself making more time for it these days, especially when travelling. Airline travel particularly wears out and dehydrates the body. I’m thankful that more hotels are installing fitness rooms, although sometimes with sound systems or huge screens featuring ghastly, noisy dribble intended to distract one from the aches and pains of pumping muscles. This morning in the West Palm Beach Embassy Suites Hotel, I was fortunate to have an exercise room all to myself. So I brought my own laptop and cranked up a recording of the piece I am playing later this week with the Florida Symphony – - Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony no. 2, “The Age of Anxiety.”
It’s a programmatic work, based on the epic (novel-like) poem of W.H. Auden, about Man’s search for God and / or meaning in life. The work has an incredible, classically dramatic arch, which builds after a searchingly introspective opening, through a series of brilliant variations, to a grand and jazzy climax entitled “Masques,” where the pianist really flies around the keyboard. “Masques,” ingeniously scored for piano and percussion, is followed by a soothing coda containing some of Bernstein’s most affectingly lyrical music.
Not at all to bring such an exalted masterpiece down to an appallingly base level, but my goodness is this the perfect score for a 30-minute workout. That’s not surprising, in that the dramatic arch form which reaches its emotional climax about 2/3 of the way through is used over and over again in poetry, prose, the theater, and music. Almost any score by Beethoven or Bartók features such a construct. But to have it perfectly laid out with fetching rhythms in a half-hour, while pumping away on a bike – - well, that was a bit of physical serendipity. May I recommend that to one and all: The Age of Anxiety Workout. Maybe I’ll make an exercise video out of it.
“Soloist Buechner brings authenticity to Anxiety”
from the Tampa Bay Times, October 11, 2012: