Leonard Bernstein at 100
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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
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
"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
A Bench Across the Street
My son Andrew acknowledges that Leonard Bernstein was responsible for his deciding at age 10 to become a conductor.
This is a story about another conductor. I suspect you may not know the profound admiration and respect in which Bernstein was held by one of the Soviet Union’s top conductors at the height of the Cold War. Yevgeny Svetlanov, Music Director of the USSR State Symphony Orchestra, was one of my closest friends. How I met Svetlanov and what he asked of me following Bernstein’s death could be a story from a Russian novel.
When Andrew was 9 years old, I was spending a lot of time on business in Canada. I had missed “Fathers Visiting Day” at Andrew's grade school three years in a row, and I promised him that no matter what I would be there next time. I was in my Winnipeg office the day before “Fathers Visiting Day” intending to take an evening flight home. My highly efficient secretary alerted me at noon that a massive blizzard blanketing the East Coast was forcing cancellation of all flights into New York. She booked me into Montreal by air with a seat on the overnight train to New York. I would get to Andrew’s school on time.
The train was delayed departing Montreal. Along with most other businessmen I found my way to the packed bar car. When we finally got under way, US Customs & Immigration officers came into the bar car and ordered passengers to return to their seats for Customs check. Everyone complied except me (I had just received my drink) and a table of men at the opposite side of the car. I noticed the Customs man getting angry with the men at the other table who seemed to ignore his orders.
I heard them speaking Russian and realized they probably didn’t understand a word of what the Customs man was saying. I speak Russian, am of Russian heritage, studied Russian at Yale. I realized it was time to be a Good Samaritan. I approached their table and asked in Russian if I could be of help.
They gratefully accepted, stating they were Russian musicians booked on a flight from Moscow to New York that had been diverted to Montreal due to the blizzard. They hadn’t had anything to eat or drink in a very long time, didn’t understand why the Customs man was angry, and only wanted to be able to finish their sandwiches. I assured the Customs man that I would look after them and help interpret when he made his inspection. He agreed to let us remain in the Bar car.
On the way back to their compartment they again assured me they were simple musicians with nothing to hide…..but that if somehow the Customs inspector did not open a small black satchel under one of their seats, it might be helpful. Hell of a dilemma. As luck would have it by the time the Customs man got to their compartment, he was dead tired, couldn’t care less, and perfunctorily stamped their passports without opening anything. My new Russian friends assumed that I had something to do with it, threw their arms around my neck, and thanked me profusely for trusting them. They then opened the satchel and showed me the contents: bottles of Stolichnaya vodka. They took the satchel back to the Bar car and proceeded to treat all passengers to Stoly for the entire ride to New York. The satchel was empty by the time we got there. Never had bonds of friendship been forged so quickly and easily. My new Russian friends were Yvegeny Svetlanov and the First Chair men of the USSR State Symphony Orchestra.
They had no idea where they were to be staying in New York. Their impresario Sol Hurok was an old friend of my parents. I called Sol, who breathed a great sigh of relief, not knowing what had become of his missing musicians. I then called my late wife Norma advising that we would be having some new friends over for dinner that evening.
When Svetlanov met Andrew, he said “Andryusha, I understand you play piano; play me something”. Andrew, even at 9, never had to be asked twice. Svetlanov commented: “Yes; Andruysha, you have talent, but talent is never enough. You must work! Scales and exercises! Who knows? Some day you may be a soloist with my Orchestra”
……But that’s another story for another time.
Suffice to note that from that day forward Svetlanov was never in New York without our getting together. Thanks to Hurok, the USSR State Symphony often toured here.
Svetlanov truly became like one of the family. I will never forget his first visit after the death of your father. He asked me if perchance I knew where Leonard Bernstein lived.
Your father had been living at the Dakota, a few blocks away from our home. Svetlanov said, “Please take me there. I want to sit on a bench across the street, silently communicate with him, let him know how much I love and admire him”. Which he did. But that was not enough. Svetlanov then asked if I knew where your father was buried. I drove him to the Green-Wood Cemetery. He placed flowers on the grave.
Politicians exploit differences. Musicians overcome differences.
George Litton, New York, NY
Leonard in black and white
When an occasional TV special was aired in the 1960's, it was indeed special. Watching a Leonard Bernstein special as a kid in black and white was seeing something you had never experienced before. Pre-Super Bowls and pre-Beatles, Leonard Bernstein was the first Rock Star I had seen on TV. Giving classical music to a prime time audience was unique for its time. He could connect with his ability to cross his music over to lovers of many different genres.
Brian Hayden, Buffalo, NY
Music Teacher at Westminster Choir College
I graduated from Westminster Choir College in 1990. Singing in the symphonic choir, we were exposed to many of the great conductors of the 20th century. Bernstein was by far my favorite. I vividly remember him explaining conducting gestures and other terminology using every day language; language that everyone could understand, not just trained musicians. That made such an impact on me, I became a teacher. I figured if Lenny could teach like that, so could I. Pictures of Lenny are all over my classroom, office and music studio in my home. 22 years strong. I only wish I had been able to tell him this in person.
Kathy Anderson, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Even a child understands a true artist
Four days after my ninth birthday, I heard on the radio that Leonard Bernstein died. I was sitting with my mother in the kitchen in suburban Chicago. When I heard the news, I asked her who Leonard Bernstein was, and I still remember her telling me with sadness that he was a famous musician in New York. I felt a strange and unsettling loss, like my own grandfather had died, without even knowing who the man was.
Later on in life, I listened to Leonard's recordings, read his biographies, watched his Young People's concerts and lectures, and came to know and love him almost like he was a friend. To me, he will always represent the passionate pursuit of expression and and a love for beauty in spite of the pain and tragedy of life. And in an increasingly coarse and vulgar world, Leonard Bernstein reminds me that art matters.
Matt Walter, Los Angeles, CA, 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
121 W 27 St, Suite 1104, New York, NY 10001
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