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
A conductor who made the earth move
I only heard Leonard Bernstein conduct once. It was at the 60th anniversary concert by the Curtis Institute Orchestra held at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia on Easter Sunday, April 22, 1984. The program included his Symphony #2 with Susan Starr as the piano soloist. At one point in the concert a tremble was felt in the hall--presumably a large truck going down Broad Street.
The next day I read in the paper that there had been an earthquake centered near Lancaster, PA, at about 10pm that was felt in 5 states.
Years later, reading Joan Peyser's biography, I learned that on two other occasions--once in South America and once in LA--his concerts were punctuated by earthquakes. It can't have been coincidence.
Christopher Freitag, New York, NY
My first big concert - boy, how big!
For my first concert in London, aged 12, I chose to attend a performance of the Verdi Requiem by the London Symphony Orchestra and Bernstein. I selected seats behind the orchestra so I could watch the conductor (as an aspiring conductor myself!). We were directly above and behind the bass drum - although I knew the work a bit, I nearly took off at the Dies Irae! Somehow, my father managed to take me backstage afterwards where I met the soloists, who all autographed my programme. It's been sitting in a box for nearly 50 years! The performance was to have featured Franco Corelli but he was 'indisposed'.
When the work was filmed for TV in St. Paul's Cathedral a day or two afterwards, a young Placido Domingo made his mark, alongside the wonderful Martina Arroyo, Josephine Veasey and a very tall, young Ruggero Raimondi! It was the first of several occasions I met and was inspired by Lenny. I later attempted to negotiate the rights to stage the UK premiere of Mass before finding myself at the University that was actually performing it - I sang in the choir, also at the Royal Albert Hall and was delighted to find my parents had bought tickets (secretly) and attended the performance. My memories of that Verdi night and my first encounter with Lenny remain very vivid as I move house from London to the country on the path towards retirement.
Nicholas Goldwyn, Shropshire, United Kingdom
Hooked as a Forever Fan
My introduction to Leonard Bernstein came on that momentous day when he replaced Bruno Walter. I heard the broadcast and wrote to congratulate him. Helen Coates responded and I was hooked as a forever fan.
I saw him later at intermission at a Town Hall concert of a pianist friend. I was still in high school and had the nerve then to walk up and speak with him. I also attended his 6pm concerts at City Center during the war years and was so impressed when he played and conducted Bach's Brandenberg Concerto #5.
I admired the Broadway side of him when I attended Candide and West Side Story as well as joining the millions who learned from and enjoyed the TV programs. I saw him at Tanglewood when he was with Mrs. Joan Kennedy and so many fans surrounded him. I saw Jamie Bernstein running interference and remembered the thin, beautiful blouse she was wearing. I attended many concerts he conducted, the last when he programmed my favorite Mozart symphony. The numerous books by him and about him, along with the CDs that included the "On the Waterfront" music that I own will always serve to remind me of his extraordinary talent and genius.
Concert on the athletic field with Leonard Bernstein conducting
Loved the concert. I believe it was towards the end of his career celebrating a birthday if I remember correctly in his home town. We were living in Andover at the time.
Mary Ellen O'Sullivan, Lawrence, MA, United States
When Lenny spoke at my mom's memorial
My mom, the photographer Ruth Orkin, knew Bernstein from one of her earliest assignments when she was hired to take a photo of him with the New York City Symphony. She really got to know him when she went up to Tanglewood and shot the rehearsals all summer. They became friends, and before she passed away in 1985, he offered to write the text for a book of all the photos. After she died, I asked if he would speak at her memorial, and he accepted. It all came together beautifully.
He was attending opening night of the Metropolitan Opera with Franco Zeffirelli, and the memorial was at the Ethical Culture Society a block away. He seemed to slip in with his tux and tails and caused quite a stir when people recognized him. I spoke briefly, and then introduced him. He made some personal remarks about her, and also said a few words in Hebrew. It was short, but very meaningful, and I will be forever grateful and she would have loved it. To top it off, Isaac Stern also spoke and played some Bach for Ruth.
Photo: Bernstein Playing Piano (Ruth Orkin)
Mary Engel, New York, NY, United States
Sharing Passover In Negril, Jamaica
I was visiting one springtime in the 1970s, with my young children who had been introduced at home to the Young People's Concerts. Friends of mine decided to have a Seder at their small beach-side restaurant, The Golden Sunset, on the Seven Mile Beach. [No longer there, but a hotel with that name may be on the same site.] My friends had posted fliers around town. What a delightful surprise when Leonard, Shirley, and a couple of her children joined the small gathering. He was very engaged in the celebration and played the piano afterward. I whispered to my children, "That's the man you saw on the Young People's Concerts!"
M. F. Kite
My Broadway Debut: Rehearsal Pianist on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue!
I was introduced to Lenny on the stage of the Kennedy Center in the fall of 1971, after a performance of his MASS. Upon learning that I was just about to enter his alma mater, the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia as a composition major, he invited me to send him my music. He then invited me to a rehearsal of Carmen at the Met, where he told me how much he liked my music, after which I received several grants from his foundation. After graduation, I auditioned for Roland Gagnon, musical director for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and as Lenny knew me, I did not have to audition for him and my Broadway career was launched. He was incredibly encouraging of my conducting and playing, and while the show had a troubled life, I went on to compose, write dance music and arrangements for over 30 Broadway shows as well as television and film. We kept in touch for years after 1600 Penn. I enclose a wonderful letter from him. He was my greatest musical influence and I will be forever grateful that he touched my life in such a deeply meaningful way.
David Krane, New York, NY, United States
Leonard Bernstein at the Casals Festival
In June, 1965, Maestro Bernstein was in San Juan, Puerto Rico to conduct and play at the Casals Festival. He was to play and conduct from the piano Mozart's Concerto K.453. His tuner from New York came with him. There was something wrong with the Baldwin concert grand, and it couldn't be repaired. Arthur Rubinstein had just performed at the Festival. Maestro Bernstein had to use Rubinstein's Steinway. Since Maestro Bernstein couldn't be seen playing a Steinway since he was a Baldwin artist, a large piece of masking tape was placed over the Steinway sign, Brand X!
Edith Kraft, New York, NY, United States
The maestro had observed me in a conducting seminar at Tanglewood in 1989, and the next morning, when I happened to meet him on the grounds as we went to a BSO rehearsal, he paused and turned to me: "The next time I see you conduct" (what a way for Leonard Bernstein to begin a sentence!) "I don't want to see what you think I'm supposed to see. I want to see how you feel about music."
I have never forgotten those words in the years since, and they mean more to me as I go along. And I am especially moved as I think how he didn't have to say anything to me that morning. He could have just smiled and nodded, or not remembered me at all. But he became a counselor, or something like a dad or a sage rabbi. One of the most meaningful moments in my life.
Eric Benjamin, Akron, OH, United States
A 1979 Tanglewood Summer Romance Still Going Strong - All The Way To Việt Nam
“He’s the greatest player I’ve ever conducted....do everything he tells you to do!” That was the first time I heard Leonard Bernstein’s voice in person. I was introduced to him by his favorite, Roland Berger of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, on the stage of the Musikverein at a rehearsal break during a year of study in Vienna. I never dreamed that by the following summer at Tanglewood in 1979 I’d be playing principal horn for him with the BMC in Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony, doing my best to put every ounce of what I’d learn in Vienna from Berger to work with Bernstein at Tanglewood. I was truly nervous before the concert. But once we started on stage - Bernstein made it the easiest concert I’ve ever played. Everything was possible with him, the best teacher of all helped me find my own musical voice that night. And that performance also sealed the love of my life. My wife violist Jan Karlin and I met that summer as BMC Fellows, a summer romance still going strong, often propelled by the memory of that performance. I had to suppress a proposal right then and there, but wisely held back the timing in my heart to allow enough time for us both to absorb the road ahead. But by the following summer in 1980, sure enough a few hours before I would propose to Jan, Bernstein saw me on the Tanglewood lawn and gave me a slap on my back, saying of all things “Good luck!” Today in 2018 and in our early 60s, Jan and I are now the first Americans appointed as artistic advisors by the Vietnamese government to guide the development of the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble. Everyday we are in Việt Nam, the engaged life of Leonard Bernstein inspires us to do our best to realize his well known statement as a response to violence. And there is another influence worth mentioning. Roland Berger told me that the second time Bernstein returned to Vienna, his German was flawless. They had never experienced such a dramatic language change from any other conductor. So Jan and I are following another lifetime influence from Leonard Bernstein. We now speak intermediate Vietnamese (talk about a challenge.....), building trust in countless ways, and of course our studies continue. And sometimes in Việt Nam, of all places for us as American musicians who met at Tanglewood, I can still feel him slapping my back after a performance in Hà Nội.
Jeff von der Schmidt, Pasadena, CA, United States
My dad played viola in the Philharmonic - he was hired by Bernstein in his first year. I met "Lenny" a couple of times. The one that stands out, for some reason, occurred on a flight of stairs somewhere in Philharmonic Hall (as it was known then), in maybe the early 1970's. We shook hands. He wasn't a tall man, but the power in his hands, his body, and his personality really impressed me. Those pianist's hands were like slabs of granite.
Jon Nigrine, Flushing, MI, United States
How Bernstein's "Mass" changed my life. Yale production New Haven, Ct. & Vienna 1972/1973
In 1972 and 1973 I was a member of the "Street Chorus" in the Yale productions of Bernstein's "Mass" in New Haven, CT, Vienna, Austria and Public Television"s "Great Performances". I was a member of the New Haven community at the time and auditioned my way into the production. "Mass" changed my life and has shaped it ever since. As a result of the "Mass" experience, I have gone on to have a wonderful life as a Choral Music Educator. Working with a friend I am going to produce a video chronicling that experience and its life altering impact. I know there are many others who were in this production who had their lives impacted also. It is my hope that I represent them and the power of Leonard Bernstein's life-work well. Wish me luck!!!
Michael P. Adam-Kearns, Eastford, CT, United States
Memorable Car Rides at Tanglewood
As a starry-eyed Fellowship student at Tanglewood in 1970, I not only had an entire week of intensive learning in Bruckner's 9th Symphony with Leonard Bernstein, but I also was among the privileged few who were invited to ride around the Tanglewood grounds with him in his car. After rehearsal, on those days when his big boat of a car was waiting for him at the entrance of what was then the Concert Hall, he'd say, "Hop in, kids, let's go for a ride!" So we'd all pile in - sometimes Jamie, Alex, and/or Nina would be there with us - and Lenny would drive around, one hand on the steering wheel, the other hand gesturing at all the stunning beauty surrounding us. He'd quote poetry and sayings about the beauty of nature - Emerson, Thoreau, and others. But who remembers exactly who he was quoting? I was riding in Leonard Bernstein's car!! It wasn't until much later, when I became a music lecturer and did research on Lenny's history with Tanglewood, that I discovered that Koussevitzky had done the same for his students when Lenny was a student back in the 1940s. So Lenny channeled his beloved teacher and mentor - and gave us the same unforgettable experience.
Erica Miner, Edmonds, WA, United States
New York Philharmonic
In my high school days, after a big family Sunday dinner, I would hole myself up in the kitchen while keeping everyone else out, as I did all the dishes. That way I could listen to Bernstein and the beautiful music without any kitchen help talking and making noise to interfere with the concerts. I loved it!
Lillian J. Sindel, CO, United States
I remember going to Lincoln Center, getting the cheap $5 student seats and watching Lenny play Copland - the all American, western based sounds of Copland - and getting into character as he was leading his cowboys into the music. That image of him - bringing himself and his feelings into the music - is stuck in my brain.
Mo, CT, United States
Let's Play Opera Quiz
I certainly remember Leonard Bernstein when we were both in residence at the MacDowell Colony during 1962. Lenny was always open and greatly charming. I remember one evening having drinks before supper seated outside and talking with Lenny. At one moment he said to me: "Ray, you are Italian, let's play opera quiz. We will each in turn, give the opening lines to a specific Italian aria and we will take turns guessing from which opera the aria belongs". Well, Leonard won, of course. (As I remember it was from Verdi's "Otello" that I missed).
Another evening at an informal gathering at his studio, Leonard at the piano suggested that we both sing Mimi's death scene from "La Boheme". He said I should sing Mimi! I replied firstly that I was not a singer and obviously it is a soprano role. Lenny said no matter I will bring the pitch down. So he did and so I sang Mimi's great death aria "sono andati...." My one and only operatic debut!
Leonard always looked for and brought out the best in people.
Photo: Eastman Studio at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire; courtesy of MacDowell Colony.
Ray Ciarrocchi, New York, NY
A warm welcome from Leonard Bernstein
I went to the MacDowell Colony for the first time in the early '70s . I arrived late on a Sunday afternoon. The Colony seemed deserted. I cautiously entered the largest building in sight, and found myself in the lounge. There was only one person there--Bernstein. I knew from the papers that he had just been in Washington conducting the premiere of a new oratorio. It had received very unfavorable reviews from the critics. What was he doing at MacDowell? He was in flight from the bad publicity, I decided, and licking his wounds. But he was gracious and generous to me. He greeted me, explained where I was, where the dining room was, how to find my bedroom in an adjacent house. That was the last I saw of him. But I'll always remember that warm welcome to MacDowell, at what must have been a tough time for him.
Photo: Wood Studio at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire; courtesy of MacDowell Colony
Samuel Hynes, Princeton, NJ, United States
The Young People's Concert
I liked when Leonard Bernstein let comedian Danny Kaye lead The New York Philharmonic at The Young People's Concert!
Jeffrey Witt, Rockville Center, NY, United States
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