Leonard Bernstein would be cancelled today, says his protégée

Marin Alsop, who made the claim, defended the legendary Jewish composer nevertheless, saying he was 'extremely supportive' of women


Leonard Bernstein's former protégée has said that the legendary composer would be “cancelled” today over his treatment of women.

Marin Alsop, who is set to conduct the last night of the Proms tomorrow, said Bernstein would “definitely” have faced a backlash these days, claiming he would “kiss you, smack you on the lips”, though she insisted there was not anything “untoward” about his behaviour.

Alsop stressed that the Jewish musician, who died aged 72 in 1990, was "extremely supportive" of female colleagues throughout his career.

“He was the most affectionate human being I’ve ever met. He was like a large puppy. I mean, he’d be coming towards us students and everybody would be like ‘OK, duck!’" she told The Times.

"He’d kiss you, smack you on the lips. I don’t think there was anything untoward about it. I never felt that way anyway. But he definitely would have been cancelled.”

Alsop, a leading conductor in her own right, added: “He was extremely supportive of women, particularly as conductors. In the Sixties he hired women as assistants at the New York Philharmonic, and they had to change the bylaws to permit it.”

Alsop first met Bernstein after she was rejected from the Juilliard School's prestigious conducting programme.

Speaking with The Times, she described a defining moment in their relationship when he sat deep in thought after she had finished conducting.

“I said, ‘Maestro, is everything all right?’ And he said: 'I can’t figure it out. When I close my eyes, I can’t tell that you’re a woman.’

"I understood what he was saying to me. He was trying to work it out - that there really is no difference.”

Alsop has previously described her time with Bernstein as one of the greatest experiences of her career.

"He exceeded all of my expectations - he was so generous, so loving, and so caring of all of his students, but I felt especially of me," she said in a video recorded by Carnegie Hall to mark their 2014 production of Bernstein's West Side Story.

"Maybe each of his students felt that way - that was his gift. One of the most valuable things I learned from him was this idea of telling stories through music. He was a great storyteller. If he didn’t know the story of a piece, he’d make it up.

"He was always inventing stories because he understood that we, as human beings, needed a story. We need a beginning, we need a middle, we need an end; most important, we need a moral to the story."

One of Bernstein's greatest qualities, Alsop added, was his humanitarianism and commitment to social justice.

She said: “I loved watching him stand up and speak his mind, be counted and not back off. He was a champion against inequality on every level.

"That has really spurred me on. I realised, ‘If I don’t do something, nobody else is going to do it’.”

Over 30 years after Bernstein's death, Bradley Cooper's portrayal of the conductor in his upcoming film Maestro has inspired fresh controversy over the decision to wear a prosthetic nose.

Jewish actor Tracy-Ann Oberman condemned the choice, writing online: “If [Cooper] needs to wear a prosthetic nose then that is, to me and many others, the equivalent of Black-Face or Yellow-Face…

"If Bradley Cooper can’t [play Bernstein] through the power or acting alone then don’t cast him – get a Jewish Actor."

But Bernstein’s family rallied round Cooper, who also directed the biopic, saying they were "perfectly fine" with the actor’s decision "to use makeup to amplify his resemblance" to their father.

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