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New footage discovered of composer Bernstein in action

Previously unreleased footage shows the conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein leading one of his final rehearsals. Fittingly, it shows him teaching a Copland symphony to students at Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home in the Berkshires, in 1990 — 50 years after he had studied there with Copland.

In the rehearsal, which he led just two months before his death, at 72, Bernstein urges the young players of the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra to loosen up as they play Copland’s Third Symphony, telling them to imagine themselves “standing on the sidewalk, thumbs in your jeans, whistling casually.” Seated, he looks quite weak but fully engaged with the music.

At one point he suggests that the players invent lyrics to help them capture the rhythms of the phrases. “I love the way my baby walks, I love the way my baby talks,” he sings to them. “Make up any words you want to it, but it should be that casual, and that American.”

The video was unearthed by a new classical music website, Classical.org, which is being started on Thursday by WGBH, the Boston-based public broadcaster. The site will be devoted to Bernstein this year to mark the centennial of his birth, and will offer archival material and a round-the-clock audio stream of music written or performed by him, said Anthony Rudel, the site’s executive director and the station manager of WCRB, Boston’s classical radio station. When the Bernstein centennial year ends, Rudel said, the site will expand into other areas, and add more music streams, which are seen as increasingly important in an era when large swaths of the United States have lost their local classical radio stations.

In the video, something of a late master class, Bernstein grows animated as he leads the students in the symphony’s rousing finale, which incorporates music from Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.” At several points he rises from his chair.

“Well, that’s as good as I ever hear it, that end,” he tells them.

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