The Omnibus television program of the 1950s and ‘60s has been called “the most successful cultural magazine series in the history of U.S. commercial television.” One of its most popular and innovative undertakings was a seven-part series—plus a bonus eighth performance—Leonard Bernstein made for the program between 1954 and 1958.
Now the Arizona Senior Academy is presenting those eight episodes on separate dates this summer in the Academy’s Great Room. The sixth, to be shown at 3:30 p.m. Thursday (July 21), is entitled “The Music of J.S. Bach.”
In this episode, Bernstein demonstrates his breadth of musical knowledge and his ability to recognize and understand genius even in composers whose musical tastes differ from his own.
“From the first he was a passionate romantic, in his composing, his conducting and his life,” said critic and author John Rockwell. “That didn’t always sit well with those who prefer a more buttoned-down quality in music and in people. It makes his extreme enthusiasm for Bach in that Omnibus program a little surprising. Yet the enthusiasm was genuine, and comes across as such on television.”
And while most of Bernstein’s Omnibus programs were aimed at non-technical audiences, the Bach program “ventures a little further into technicalities, even,” in Rockwell’s words, “to Bach’s fascination with numerology, making one wonder if he ever chafed at the restrictions of the ‘Omnibus’ producers.”
Originally broadcast on March.31, 1957, the episode includes appearances by soloists Saramae Endich, soprano; Gloria Lane, alto; Russell Oberlin, tenor; and Kenneth Smith, bass. Choral works are demonstrated by the chorus of the Schola Cantorum of New York and boys from the St. Thomas School Choir.
The seventh ASA program from the “Leonard Bernstein: Omnibus” collection will cover grand opera, and the eighth, a bonus, will feature Bernstein conducting the Symphony of the Air in selections from Handel’s Messiah.
Written by Mike Maharry, Academy Village Volunteer