Lessons That Sustain Dreams
Conductor Yutaka Sado studied under the great composer Leonard Bernstein for three years up until Bernstein’s death in 1990. Sado talks lessons learned and what he hopes to pass on to the future.
The following are excerpts from our interview.
Bernstein was a powerhouse of talent. He could teach, he could conduct, he could play the piano, he could compose music. He was always curious and eager to learn, and could do it all. And everybody loved him.
I couldn’t speak much English, and so I was stuck in my shell. And at the same time, as a Japanese person in this western tradition of music, I had a bit of an inferiority complex. I was closed off. And he saw through that immediately. I was unsure I’d be able to make it as a conductor. And he would give me encouragement, telling me I had the necessary elements—I just had to do it.
I watched Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic rehearse, I watched them perform live. It was an eye-opening experience through and through. I saw him deal with hardship I’d never known, I saw him butt heads with the orchestra.
Bernstein would argue with them, many times rehearsals would end in a huge fight. But in the end they would all come together and their vision for the music would harmonize.
It seemed to me that there was something that only the people up on stage get to experience—a resonance, a light...a kind of light that the gods of music shine down on them and only them. And if I was going to do this, I wanted to reach those heights.
Bernstein was very simple and straightforward as a person, but at the same time he was also playing the part of “Maestro Leonard Bernstein”. That part is important too. He was, after all, a leader. He would stand up there on his podium, elevated above this group of more a hundred people. But watching him conduct, it never seemed like the musicians felt restricted, it wasn’t like they were being controlled.
And I hope to be the same way in those respects. And now, 28 years since his passing, I feel like I’m finding a way of doing things that feels right for me. I’m 56 now but I still have much to learn. I’ve only just started.