Updating ‘Uncle Lenny’ for a Multitasking Age



Even before his career took off, the young Leonard Bernstein sized up television and thought, first, that it was potentially the greatest tool for general music education and, second, that he was the ideal television teacher. He was right on both counts.

In 1958, Bernstein, by then the music director of the New York Philharmonic, presented his first Young People’s Concert, which was televised nationally. The broadcasts continued for 15 years and have never been equaled.

The field of classical music has long been waiting for some musician to come along who could use television with Bernstein’s galvanizing impact. The closest, it seemed, has been the dynamic maestro Michael Tilson Thomas, a natural who has masterminded some impressive shows. Until recently, though, TV had not been a central component of Mr. Thomas’s work.

That has now changed. Mr. Thomas is the creative force behind a $23 million, five-year project titled “Keeping Score.” Developed by the San Francisco Symphony, where Mr. Thomas is in his 11th season as music director, “Keeping Score” comprises a series of PBS television shows, an interactive Web site, a series of radio broadcasts, documentary and live performance DVDs and a program for public schools, kindergarten through 12th grade, that is starting this fall in selected cities in California and Arizona.

This ambitious project would not amount to much if it did not have the right communicator directing things. Mr. Thomas is that person, as the first three “Keeping Score” TV shows make clear. Last night various PBS stations began broadcasting the first 60-minute installment, which explores Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony. (It will be broadcast in New York on Channel 13 at noon on Sunday.)

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