Why Bradley Cooper spent six years learning how to conduct six minutes of music for Maestro

Bradley Cooper has revealed part of the painstaking attention to detail put into creating his new film Maestro – including spending six years learning to conduct six minutes of music.

The actor and director stars as American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein in the forthcoming biopic. Described as “a love letter to life and art”, Maestro depicts the decades-long relationship between Bernstein and his wife, Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein (Carey Mulligan).

In a post-screening Q&A session in New York, Cooper told an audience about his process of recreating Bernstein conducting the 1976 London Symphony Orchestra in Ely Cathedral – a landmark moment of the master musician’s career.

“That scene I was so worried about because we did it live,” Cooper explained to the panel moderator, Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, on Monday (13 November).

“That was the London Symphony Orchestra. I was recorded live, I had to conduct them. And I spent six years learning how to conduct six minutes and 21 seconds of music.”

According to IndieWire, Cooper then explained how his “wonderful teachers” such as Metropolitan Opera director Yannick Nézet-Séguin were able to help him learn the specifics of leading an orchestra to perfect his performance.

“I was able to get the raw take where I just watched Leonard Bernstein [conduct] at Ely Cathedral with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1976. And so I had that to study,” Cooper continued. “And Yannick Nézet-Séguin made videos with all the tempo changes, so I had all of the materials to just work on.”

Bradley Cooper (Getty Images for Netflix)
Bradley Cooper (Getty Images for Netflix)

Cooper, who also directed, co-wrote and co-produced the project, noted that the long preparation for the conducting scene came out of him figuring out the specifics of how he wanted it to look and feel, and knowing that he needed true background knowledge to make the performance believable.

“It was really about dialling exactly what I wanted cinematically and then inviting them into then inhabit that space and trusting that they have all done the work,” he said. “Because I think that I knew, I was terrified, absolutely terrified that if I hadn’t done the work that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself in these scenes. And everybody did.”

Cooper joined the Maestro project in 2018 after Martin Scorsese stepped down from directing to work on The Irishman. Though Jake Gyllenhaal had also been working on his own idea for a Leonard Bernstein project, the conductor’s estate gave the rights to Cooper’s version of the film.

Ahead of its release, the film and Cooper have been embroiled in some controversy over Cooper, who is not Jewish, using prosthetics while portraying a Jewish person.

Both Cooper and Mulligan wear prosthetics in the movie, in order to play older versions of their characters. However, it is the fake nose worn by Cooper that has generated debate among film fans, with the A Star is Born actor-director accused of “fuelling antisemitic stereotypes”.

Maestro will be released in the UK on 24 November, before launching on Netflix on 20 December.