Leonard Bernstein at 100
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On Race, Jewish Music, Spirituals, and Bernstein's Legacy
Wynton Marsalis discusses Bernstein's legacy, addressing the topics of race, Jewish music, and African American spirituals.
This interview was conducted in 2018 by the National Museum of American Jewish History, located on Historic Independence Mall in Philadelphia, as part of the original exhibition "Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music".
Wynton Marsalis, New York, NY
Leonard Bernstein and stuffed lion at a rehearsal with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
I took this photo of Leonard after a rehearsal. A woman had presented him a stuffed lion and when he posed with it I quickly reacted and grabbed this photo. One of my all time favorites!
David Taylor, Chicago, IL, United States
Postlude to LB's First DG Recording, "Carmen" at the Met
I produced this recording for Deutsche Grammophon in the fall of 1972. After several months of post-production in Hannover, I brought discs of the preliminary edit back to New York in March of 1973 and played them for LB at his Amberson Productions offices on Sixth Avenue.
He liked it, and didn't ask for any of the 692 edits to be changed, but he requested a number of subtle but important changes in the mix. I went back to Germany, made those changes and sent him a new set of discs, along with a note expressing my admiration and thanks. This is the note which I received from him in reply.
The recording was released later that spring to wide acclaim. It was DG's best-selling opera recording, and Maestro and I each received a Grammy Award for it.
Thomas Mowrey, New York, NY, United States
Gag of a 3-year-old
My father hit me only twice. Once when came home at 4 am, without calling, after an evening at the Fillmore East. The first time, though, I was three years old. I was in his studio while he was studying a score. I thought it would be funny to pretend to sharpen a pencil in his ear. I believe I did deserve that slap!
Alexander Bernstein, New York, NY, United States
Remembering Freiheit in Berlin, 1989
One of the most memorable days of my life. (Listen to the audio below)
Craig Urquhart, Berlin, Germany
"I want to see the Cand-eeee"
Candide opened in 1956. I was four. My parents were all dressed up; clearly they were about to do something exciting. “Where are you going?” I asked. “We’re going to see Candide!” Mummy said, with a little shiver of anticipation. They were going to see candy? That sounded wonderful. “I want to go too!” I said. “No, darling, this is for grownups.” Candy – for grownups? Impossible. “But I want to see the candy! I want to see the can-deee...!” I was still kicking my nanny's shins in the throes of my tantrum as Mummy and Daddy scurried out the door in their opening night finery.
Jamie Bernstein, New York, NY, United States
As an almost 13 year old, I had to accompany my Mother at times to the Philharmonic Concert, to which she had a subscription. It was the day Bruno Walter was ill and a substitute conductor, Leonard Bernstein, took over. I clearly remember, at the end of the concert there was dead silence, then the entire hall erupted in applause and a standing ovation. My Mother said to never forget witnessing this momentous occasion.
[Photo: Leonard Bernstein, backstage at Carnegie Hall, being congratulated by New York Philharmonic musicians, following his debut performance, 1943. Courtesy of the New York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital Archives.]
Nada Barry, Sag Harbor, NY, United States
Listening at the keyhole
During Leonard Bernstein’s residency at Eliot House as Harvard’s Norton Professor, he was scheduled to conduct Beethoven’s 9th with the Boston Symphony. The evening before, he had opened the rehearsal to the Harvard community. Although not a fan of the symphony, I went to the rehearsal and was swept off my feet. All the next day, I was obsessed with the question of how had LB done it? I had been thrilled by a piece I had always found disjointed and frankly annoying.
The evening came, and the time for the concert approached. I checked outside the entrance door to Eliot House. There was his limo, waiting in the falling snow. I HAD to talk to him about this, ASAP. Clearly he hadn’t left for Symphony Hall yet, and might still be—or not be—in his rooms. I listened hard at the door, but could hear nothing. So I leaned way down to listen at the keyhole, at which point, the door opened and LB suddenly appeared, in white tie, sharp as a tack, carrying a baton case.
I burbled out what was on my mind, and he didn’t skip a beat, but, utterly non-plussed, said it was all a matter of “tempo relationships”, and indicated that a number of famous conductors had had trouble putting that last movement together. All this as I saw him out to his car in the snow. He was kind and gracious, as though such obsession and enthusiasm were the most natural thing in the world, as was listening at a keyhole when something about Beethoven was eating you alive.
Jim Evans, Caxenovia, NY, United States
Happy Birthday, Mr. Bernstein!
As a young boy, no other classical musician - except my parents - inspired me as much as Leonard Bernstein. I watched his "Young People's Concerts" on television, conducted along to his records, sang along to his music, and decided that I wanted to be a conductor/composer/pianist/teacher, too. I never managed to become a conductor or composer (though I still, on occasion, draw the blinds and conduct along to recordings), and I am only the feeblest of pianists, but I have made a career of teaching - inspired, in part, by his example.
I heard Bernstein conduct in person for the first time in the summer of 1974, when I was just shy of my fourteenth birthday. Thousands packed the shed and every inch of the lawn at Tanglewood to hear an afternoon concert in which he shared the podium with Aaron Copland (Copland conducted Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony and his own "Appalachian Spring" and Bernstein conducted Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony and the "Adagietto" from Mahler's 5th symphony - not a bad first encounter). I seldom recall such an electric atmosphere at a concert.
I went on in the years to come to hear many rehearsals and concerts led by Bernstein - conducting the Boston Symphony, the National Symphony, the Vienna Philharmonic (on one memorable occasion, standing with his arms at his side during the third movement of the Brahms 4th symphony - conducting just with his eyes), and the student orchestra at Tanglewood.
Equally memorable are my encounters with him before and after musical events: from watching him zoom into his parking space at Tanglewood in his tan Mercedes convertible (late, of course, for a morning rehearsal, but still willing to take the time to stop and greet me), to witnessing his kindness to my mother after one of his concerts (when she stumbled over her words thanking him for the performance he had just given, he gave her the singular honor of standing up, coming out from behind the desk that shielded him from a long line of well-wishers, and giving her a big hug and a kiss - a gesture that greatly moved me, and one that obviously piqued the curiosity of others in line: "Who is this woman that Bernstein is fussing over?").
Once, I even crashed a party in his dressing room. After accepting a glass of champagne and saying hello to Joan Kennedy, I discretely pulled back the curtain on the window and raised my glass to my poor parents, who stood outside among a throng of people hoping to catch a glimpse of the maestro. I had planned to attend what turned out to be his last concert on August 19, 1990 (my 30th birthday), but stayed home to celebrate instead - a decision I still regret. This year marks his 100th birthday. Happy Birthday, Mr. Bernstein!
John A. Maltese, Athens, GA, United States
Making it Public
Tears filled my eyes as I listened to the tributes, music and voice of Leonard Bernstein. But you missed perhaps the most quintessential experience: the anonymous impacts from the Young People TV series. I was not or never was to be a musician. Life on a cattle ranch with a mother who was a known visual artist of enormous talent and energy, and yet, when that program aired, we as a family watched how Impressionism was created in music, structures and most of all possibility. Then, the dessert of a song. Tears still.
The image is my mother’s work- a thrilling symphony of color. Music played in stacks on the phonograph. Lenny wound have felt quite at home.
Patrice Pendell, Nagoya, Japan
New York Philharmonic Open Rehearsals
In the late 1980s, I commuted on one day each week from my home in Westchester County to Trinity Church, Wall Street, where I taught a regular class called "Yoga at Noon." Fortunately, I discovered that on that very same weekday, Philharmonic Rehearsals were open to the public, so I jumped at the opportunity to make a detour to Lincoln Center en route from Grand Central Terminal to lower Manhattan.
I will never forget those experiences. The most poignant memory is from the day that the orchestra was about to perform a composition by Aaron Copland.
Before Bernstein raised his baton, he paused, turned to face a suprised and silent audience, and then delivered what can best be described as a lament about his old friend and mentor, who was rapidly declining. (In fact, Copland was in his last months of life.)
I felt privileged to be in the presence of a musician whose passion for both music and humanity I will always admire.
A few months after that our teenaged son Michael played under Bernstein's baton at Tanglewood, and I suspect that Michael, now a busy professional orchstral violinist, must have been similarly inspired.
Thank you, Maestro!
[Photo: Bernstein with composer, mentor and friend, Aaron Copland at Bernardsville, NJ, August 1945., courtesy of the Library of Congress Music Division]
Nancy Roth, Oberlin, OH, United States
Meeting the Maestro
When the 1987 Tanglewood schedule was released, I noticed that Mr. Bernstein was conducting the August 15 concert of Mozart, Sibelius, and his Symphony No. 1. As that was a few days before our 9th anniversary, I thought having dinner at The Red Lion Inn and attending the concert would make for a nice celebration.
So I took a chance and wrote a letter to Mr. Bernstein to ask if my wife Angela and I could meet him after the concert, as I have two daughters for whom I'd like to make a gift of autographed copies of his book, The Joy of Music. To my pleasant surprise, I received a letter within about 2 weeks from Harry Kraut, saying that I should come backstage after the concert and ask for Craig Urquhart. We were thrilled!
With letter and books in hand (in addition to the two books for my daughters, I took along Mr. Bernstein's book, Findings), we headed for dinner and the concert. Following the concert - we usually sit on the lawn but sat inside the Shed - we went to the backstage area behind the Shed, where a long line of people were waiting to get backstage.
Rather than join the line, we went to the head of the line and presented the letter to someone - it may have been Harry Kraut, though I don't know for sure - and we were then taken to the room backstage where it almost seemed like a party was going on. Whoever escorted us in took me over to Mr. Bernstein, who was sitting at a table in a red robe, cigarette in hand, and introduced me as "The nice young man who wrote you the letter" or something along those lines.
I introduced myself to Mr. Bernstein, said how much we enjoyed the concert and expressed my appreciation for him taking the time to meet us. My wife Angela hung back to take some pictures, one of which is attached. Mr. Bernstein asked for my daughters' names and signed a copy of The Joy of Music for each of them, and then he asked for wife's name and signed Findings for her. After again thanking him for taking the time and the pleasure of meeting him, we made our exit. It was only a brief meeting, but it capped off a wonderful evening!
Leonard Bernstein with my parents at Tanglewood 1974
My parents, Leonard and Marion Burkat, were long time friends from Boston Latin School days and onward until the end of life. I know this picture was taken at Tanglewood in the summer of 1974, perhaps by Harry Kraut, another parental friend and colleague from my father's days at the BSO and then in NYC.
Caroline Burkat Hall, Danbury, CT, United States
My first view (in the flesh!) of Leonard Bernstein
Of all the people I've ever met, Leonard Bernstein has been my most significant memory (and I've even met the Dalai Lama.) The first time I saw him, for real, I was sitting in the parlor in Seranak, awaiting his arrival to give a conducting masterclass at Tanglewood.
I couldn't believe my luck to have been allowed to observe the class -- I was just a high school composition student, but since I (and two others) from the program had also done some conducting, we were allowed to sit in. I sat toward the back, looking toward the front of the house, and suddenly I saw a flash of red - that was Bernstein, dressed in a bright red turtleneck (in summer!), speeding past the front window on his way to the house! In the room, a recording of Mozart's Jupiter Symphony, last movement, was playing on a record player.
Mr. Bernstein greeted everyone in the room and then his attention turned to the music. He raised his hand slightly, flattened and parallel to the floor, and said that Mozart exists somewhere between Earth and Heaven.
[Photo: Bernstein with his class of conducting auditors at Tanglewood, summer 1948. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Music Division.]
Lauren Bernofsky, Bloomington, IN, United States
When Leonard Bernstein took over my tiny 30-piece high school band
It was 1964 and in my first full-time teaching job as a band teacher in a small rural Oklahoma school district, I assigned watching the New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts. My tiny band had only 30 members, and one of my college mentors who had come to give a clinic would always refer to them as “your little silver cornet band.” Looking at the piles of parent excuses on my desk the day after the first Young People’s concert, I saw it was not a popular assignment. Only three students watched the program. Yet, those three came into class with an evangelistic enthusiasm which was promptly met with skepticism by the rest of the students.
The next concert, four additional students watched, and those returned to school with an excitement that matched the others, and a curiosity began to spill over to the rest of the band. By the fourth concert, fully half of the band watched the concerts. The excuses still trickled in, however. But in those excuses, I began to see a theme, dads, who couldn’t or wouldn’t relinquish their TVs to watch the nation’s number one program, “Wagon Train.”
The last concert was coming—about Charles Ives, I believe. By this time all of the students were openly curious about this Leonard Bernstein fever they had seen take over their classmates. One day during class, the students asked to discuss how they could watch the last concert, and work around “Wagon Train.” They hatched a plan which was to pick a home where they could all go to watch the program, and those parents could either stay and be chaperones or go to someone’s home for “Wagon Train.” They worked it out, and that is what they did!
More that fifty years later, I still reflect on the fire that Leonard Bernstein ignited in that tiny band room. I just made an assignment, and Bernstein’s inspiration did the rest.
[Photo: Young People's Concert at Philharmonic Hall (Avery Fisher Hall), NY, circa 1964. Courtesy of the New York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital Archives.]
Myra Starr, Okmulgee, OK, United States
Birthday Celebration Memories of LB
Here's a excerpt from an email I sent my friends today, with memories of my interactions with Lenny back in the 1970s, around the time he was working on the Norton Lectures:
I was and am truly lucky: not only was my life, as a child, deeply influenced by watching the broadcasts of the Young People's Concerts, from which I learned the love of all kinds of music, from Beethoven to the Beatles, from jazz to roots music — but years later, I was also fortunate to:
-Photograph him many times in both the concert hall and the recording studio;
-Engage with him in conversation about music and about politics (including Nixon!);
-Share a piano bench with him for a performance of "Trouble in Tahiti" at the (old) Whitney Museum in New York;
-Sit in the orchestra at the great Manhattan Center as he conducted one of the first-ever “quadraphonic” recordings for Columbia Records (with the orchestra completely surrounding him . . . remember quadraphonic recordings?);
-Be in the control room with him and producer John McClure to discuss playbacks during numerous recording sessions in New York over the course of two years (this was before Lenny left the Columbia label and resolved only to record complete, unedited performances);
-To my great joy and good fortune, get some informal conducting lessons from him (my first-edition score to his MASS is still filled with his conducting notations for me — and no, it’s not for sale);
-Argue good-naturedly with him about whether the narrator of his Third Symphony should be a man or a woman (although his wife Felicia narrated the first recording of the symphony, he later advocated for a male narrator, while I disagreed passionately — the nerve I had! But he listened to my arguments...);
and . . . and . . . and . . .
-On multiple occasions, he called me a friend.
Because of him, I have great personal memories: He introduced me to playwright Thornton Wilder in Danbury, CT, and to composers Aaron Copland and Lukas Foss at Tanglewood. One morning, when I dragged my tired ass into a New York recording session, and he saw the condition I was in, he wordlessly handed me his ever-present bottle of Ballantine’s Scotch. I didn’t drink Scotch, and I still don’t, but that morning, I did. He thought I should go to Curtis (where he went) and pursue music (I didn’t, probably because I was, and to a large extent continue to be, a fool). God knows if I can still even read music. That feels like a lifetime ago.
My photos of the concerts and recording sessions are now part of the Bernstein Papers at the Library of Congress: I had given them over to his office, with the proviso that license fees for publication be donated to the Tanglewood Music Festival Student Orchestra fellowships.
The photo included here is a candid portrait taken in 1975 (and unfortunately not well-scanned). He's holding worry beads given to him by Maria Callas. At the time, he and Alan Jay Lerner were having a "giving up smoking" competition, and Lenny was using the beads as a help to keep him from smoking. Of course, as we all know, it didn't work for long...
Kenn Rabin, San Anselmo, CA, United States
My great aunt worked for the largest sheet music publisher in NYC and introduced me to classical music at an early age. I became glued to the TV when the Young People Concerts started. I have listened to many of his compositions over the years and at age 69 remain a lover of music thanks in part to what I learned from him.
Photo: Young People's Concert - December 1, 1961, at Carnegie Hall. Courtesy of the New York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital Archive
Jonathan Nechin, Hatboro, PA, United States
Lenny and me, Tanglewood, 1986
I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Leonard Bernstein on three occasions - Brahms 4 at the LAPhil Institute, and Copland 3 and Sibelius 2 at Tanglewood. The concerts were like rock concerts, and the rehearsals illuminating and riveting. His passion for and understanding of every nuance and emotional peak of the music was beyond inspiring. And he was very kind to and supportive of me.
Thanks for everything, Lenny!
Tod Bowermaster , Fenton, MO, United States
My parents gave me a love for classical music as a young child. I must have only been 10 years old when they took me to the Hollywood Bowl, orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein. He became a household name after that. Amazing!
Photo: Bernstein rehearsing at the Bowl in 1983. Photo by Robert Millard.
Bernie Malik, Riverside, CA, United States
Bernstein at the Theater des Westens in Berlin
Today, August 25th, 2018, we´re celebrating the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein´s birthday. In this photo, Mr. Bernstein is greeting Steve Barton and the cast members of the German production of “West Side Story” at the Theater des Westens in Berlin (1981).
Maria Candil, Madrid, Spain & Austin, TX, United States
Never too late to say Thank You?
I met Leonard Bernstein twice, if getting an autograph can be counted as meeting. As I reflect upon his life, and the enormous impact he made on mine, I think back to those two signings and it bothers me that I might not have said the simple words “thank you” to him. It would be an infinitesimally trivial omission in his life, but he enjoyed being appreciated. Two more thank you's wouldn’t have hurt, and I would have the comfort of knowing that at least I expressed a tiny token of appreciation.
I was 13 the first time I “met” Mr. Bernstein. (I had been to a Young People’s Concert a couple of years earlier and had the thrill of seeing him sweep from the Carnegie Hall stage door to his waiting limo.) It was 1964 and my family traveled to New York City from upstate so that my mother and I could attend a New York Philharmonic concert in the new Philharmonic Hall. Bernstein conducted, Isaac Stern was soloist for two violin concertos. I was excited just to be in New York, for it was where HE lived. For me, the air in the city literally vibrated because I knew that somewhere in this town, Leonard Bernstein lived and breathed.
The concert was marvelous and I was in heaven. As the final applause died down, my mother suggested we visit the Green Room. I readily agreed, though I had no idea what a Green Room was, for she said Bernstein might be there. She easily found the Green Room, which turned out to be a rather ordinary looking “lounge.” It was moderately busy but by no means a madhouse. It seemed to me that everyone knew each other and I couldn’t understand why outsiders such as my mother and I were allowed to remain. Standing towards the center of the room, momentarily alone, was Isaac Stern. My mother approached him and asked if he would sign our programs.
As Mr. Stern was signing, I spotted “LB”, and my first thought was “Oh, he’s little” (shame on me – he was not tall, and he became smaller as he aged; but he was never little for his presence was large). He had almost a furtive demeanor as he kind of “glided” about one side of the room. I returned my attention to Mr. Stern. (I’m quite sure I thanked him!)
A short while later Mr. Bernstein settled into the spot where he was comfortable receiving his fans and signed autographs. I don’t recall it being a very long line, but as I waited I was excited, nervous, and at a loss – afraid to look at my hero. I’m not sure if my fear was caused by not wanting to rudely stare, or because I was intimidated seeing the man in person. I decided it was safest to look at his hands; after all they were very nice hands – not at all scary. So I watched his hands through the wait and kept my eyes on his hands as I passed my program to him and received it back (what a dope I was) – and in this petrified shrinking-violet state, did I say thank you? I don’t know.
Six years later I was in college and New York City was now my home. I and a couple of friends attended a Bernstein concert and I suggested we visit the Green Room. Over the course of the intervening years I’d had several girlhood crushes but Leonard Bernstein was no longer a crush – he was a fact in my life as foundational as anyone or anything. I wasn’t as intimidated as before. I remember there was an older gentleman in front of me who was talking to the Maestro as I waited for Bernstein to sign my program. The man was haranguing LB about his nephew, “a most remarkably gifted musician, a violinist, the next Heifetz, etc, etc”; insisting that Bernstein hear him some time. After the gentleman departed and I presented my program to Mr. Bernstein, I wondered if he might be thankful that I asked for nothing more than an autograph. I hope I had the maturity and poise to say “thank you.”
A few minutes later I heard a voice behind me, the same old gentleman again pleading with Bernstein, “When will you hear my nephew?” LB finally replied, “Oh, I’ll hear him.” The man exclaimed in glee “Ohhh Maestro! How wonderful! When will you hear him?” (He fell right into LB’s trap.) “When he’s been heard of.” LB answered. Loud groan of disappointment. I turned to look at them. Bernstein’s retort ended the subject. I thought the reply “was kind of mean.” (An opinion I later revised when I learned that Bernstein was constantly barraged with requests for favors.)
To Mr. Bernstein I now say “Thank you”; for signing the programs, and for much more. Thank you for giving so generously of yourself. For sharing your remarkable talents. For your enduring dedication to music. For bringing the joy of music into millions of lives. For your courage and for your humanity. You were not a perfect being, but you were a very human being. You devoted yourself to your passions, almost literally to your last breath.
I believe that your spirit is still with this world; that you are still giving. So I write my appreciation now as if you were here to absorb it.
I’ve read that you wished that you were loved by everybody in the world. Well, for that Cosmic Count, put me down as one in the love column. And while you are at it, put my mother there too. Her impetus to visit the Green Room that night must have been love too.
Happy 100th Birthday Maestro!! You needn’t have worried you would not be remembered.
Anne Musso, Valatie, NY, United States
West Side Story and Maestro B
West Side Story holds a special place in my heart. I first saw the movie as a young boy when my parents José and Juanita took me and my sister Joanne to the luxurious Loews Paradise on the Grand Concourse in my hometown Da’ Bronx in celebration of the film’s 10th anniversary. At that time there wasn’t anything that acknowledged the contributions we had made, let alone the existence of NYC’s Puerto Rican community, other than articles about gangs and crime in relation to us. But somehow as a child I knew better.
Despite the racism my parents had experienced, and subsequently my sister and I were also were subjected to, we somehow knew that our existence, our historical presence in the city had literally transformed it culturally, stylistically, and of course musically. The authors knew this as well. Yes, gang life in NYC back in the 50s forms the framework of West Side Story (how could it not, it was an undeniable reality) and of course it’s based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. But that’s looking at things superficially.
It’s a complex story of romance set in the energy of the inner city amidst racism, bigotry, territorial imperative, and what causes it - fear and ignorance, that’s offset by cultural pride, humor, and the spirit of fighting for what one believes in - be it good or bad. In the lovers, Tony and Maria’s case, it’s about their hopes, dreams, and the ultimate power - love.
Setting aside the ridiculous move by the producers to actually spray paint the actors playing the Puerto Rican characters in the film orange - something me and my sister noticed right away, and confirmed by star Rita Moreno in her memoirs - when I first heard the music I was flabbergasted. The power, majesty, mystery, the kinetic energy - it was NYC, my city, up and down!
Maestro Bernstein had tapped directly into what sets our fair city apart from any other place on spaceship Earth - aché (energy), hipness, and cool. I will never forget that moment for it changed my life influencing me as a musician in ways that I will be forever grateful. I hope you're enjoying WSS Reimagined along with our mutual friend in heaven, Maestro Tito Puente. And in keeping with your humanitarian spirit, the majority of the proceeds go to Puerto Rico to aid the musicians there who have been suffering the after effects of the recent hurricanes. Happy 100th birthday Maestro, as Duke would say, "We love you madly!"
Bobby Sanabria, Bronx, NY, United States
Dick Waller, Principal Clarinet CSO, talks about meeting and playing with LB
Dick Waller, principal clarinet with the CIncinnati Symphony for many years, talks about meeting and playing with Leonard Bernstein—both before he was famous and after.
Margy Waller, Cincinnati, OH, United States
Tristan und Isolde
Leonard Bernstein rehearsing "Tristan und Isolde" 1981 München, Herkulessaal.
Sabine Schimmel, Germany
121 W 27 St, Suite 1104, New York, NY 10001
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