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As to conductors, Malcolm Sargent, who died almost four decades ago, was often held up as a fine English example of the kind of superstar show-off who used his non-musical as well as his musical gifts to ensure a continued high public profile, yet he himself once said that he was indeed a 'show-off' -- 'this week, I'm showing off Shostakovich -- next week I'll be doing the same for Sibelius'.

Leonard Bernstein likewise earned himself a reputation in some circles as one who acquired more importance as Leonard Bernstein than as an exponent of any of the things at which he excelled; this, I fear, was a case of the kind of grapes that go all the more sour because too many people used to (and all too many still do) distrust a genuine polymath. Bernstein was unquestionably one of the last century's musical giants -- and, yes, he appeared to provide evidence of willingness to play the superstar game -- but I am not sure how much this fact (to the extent to which it was ever true) will come to matter to a posterity that will remember him for his conducting, composing (in various fields), playing and talking about music, including his tireless promotion of the music of others.

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Copyright © 30 November 2005 Alistair Hinton, Bath UK


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