Leonard Bernstein at 100
How It Works
Submit a Memory
Remembering Freiheit in Berlin, 1989
One of the most memorable days of my life. (Listen to the audio below)
Craig Urquhart, Berlin, Germany
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
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
First performances of Mass at Lincoln Center
All I can say is I was blown away by the radical mix of musical styles. Visually and audially, it can still appear vividly in my head.
Anne Chalmers, Newton
Photo with the Maestro
Photo was taken at a Grammy Awards party in Los Angeles in the 1980s. The maestro is wearing a hollow tambourine around his neck!
Charles Bernstein, Los Angeles
Encouraging Letter from Lenny
As a young man and budding composer, I sent the maestro an essay that I had published about J.S. Bach, seduction and purity. His endearing reply emboldened me to author another 100 essays over the following years!
Charles Bernstein, Los Angeles, CA
Mine is indirect in that it was told me by a late friend Eric Chalkley, a carpenter with Croydon Borough Council and cruciverbalist. Apparently Mr. Bernstein would get his chauffeur to drive from the Barbican Hall to Croydon where he would talk and do cryptic with Eric. There was photographic and other evidence for that in Eric's small flat.
The Listener Crossword, hardest of all cryptics was their favorite. Stephen Sondheim was another such cruciverbalist.
[Image of one of Leonard Bernstein's crossword puzzles]
Tim Moorey, London, UK
It was in September of 1986 when I made my maiden voyage to Israel. My great fortune was, as Leonard Bernstein’s assistant, my guide was none other than Bernstein himself! It was during those concerts with the Israel Philharmonic that I came to understand how important his Jewish heritage was to him on a personal level. I was already aware that in his compositions he drew upon his childhood musical experiences in the synagogue. What I did not understand was that it also guided his life in so many ways. Not only musically, but also intellectually, politically, morally and spiritually.
From the first moment the jet touched down at Ben Gurion airport, he was overcome with childlike enthusiasm. He excitedly recalled to me experiences of his first days in Palestine and the forming of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, which later became the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. However, it was more than the memories that touch me. It was his commitment to Israel and his faith. Bernstein was a very spiritual person and though he attended Synagogue on an irregular basis, he was a believer. His need to educate and share was a direct result of his study of the Torah. He always traveled with the Torah that he kept next to his bed. His Jewish heritage also guided his political beliefs. He prayed that mankind would not repeat the horrors of the Nazis, which was manifest in actively working tirelessly for human rights for all people. However, Bernstein’s strongest bond was a familial one, rooted in his Jewish upbringing. Family grounded him, which I witnessed on a daily basis. He loved the Seder with his family or if on tour during the High Holy Days, he gratefully accepted invitations to join his friends. He participated in these gatherings with relish, as well as sober reflection.
However, it was in Berlin December 1989, when Bernstein invited the entire world to join him in bearing witness to the fall of the Berlin Wall, that I realized how deep his connection was. The great Berlin Synagogue still languished in East Berlin with a small but devoted congregation. Plans were underway to reconstruct the monumental building - the first bricks were being delivered. Despite a very hectic schedule Bernstein joined this congregation for a service, in a small space in the ruin. After the service, he went outside, lit a menorah candle of hope and reconciliation and silently prayed.
Being Jewish to Leonard Bernstein went straight to the heart of everything important to him. I had the honor of capturing this over many years, as well as in that one magical moment lit by a menorah candle.
[Photo by Sam Paul]
Craig Urquhart, New York, NY
I remember vividly what it was like to anticipate the Maestro's entrance into a room.
I had just started working at the Leonard Bernstein Office in September of 1986 and at the time we shared offices with Boosey & Hawkes at 24 W 57th Street.
The Bernstein family would always have a holiday party, and although the space was small, it would ultimately fill up with guests waiting for the Maestro's grand entrance. And grand it was! His entrance was always preceded with a flourish of his cape, which he would always wear. I do believe that was the moment that everyone waited for!
MIlka De Jesus, New York, NY
Guess who is coming to dinner?
It was 12 midnight and I get a call from my partner Millicent Tomkins saying start the barbecue, the Maestro is coming for hamburgers. The Maestro was conducting Bruckner in Concord and Millicent and her son-in-law Michael Barrett attended.
Hamburgers on English muffins, and 4 hand Mozart in the studio. Struggling to turn the page with dry fingers he licked his fingers and while turning the page said "There it is, old age, less moisture".
[Photo by Yousef Karsh, 1985. http://karsh.org/photographs/leonard-bernstein/]
Benjamin Little , Mill Valley, CA
During rehearsals in Manhattan of the 1972 summer touring production of "MASS", Maestro Bernstein ribbed Alvin Ailey about how much the choreography he made for "MASS" reminded him of passages of movement in "Revelations". Alvin did likewise. He pointed passages of music in "MASS" that sounded to him like passages from "West Side Story".
Clover Mathis, San Francisco, CA
Leonard Bernstein at the Hollywood Bowl
My friends and I went to the Hollywood Bowl (sometime in the 80's) to watch Leonard Bernstein conducting "An American in Paris" (if my memory serves me). At one point, L.B. was soloing at the piano, while simultaneously conducting the orchestra quite masterfully, and on the very last crashing chord, his legs shot out to the sides so it looked like he was doing the splits on his bench. I was yelling 10.0! 10.0! And the audience was cracking up! Only Bernstein could get away with that, and we loved him for it! I'll never forget it!
[Photo: Leonard Bernstein conducting from the piano at the Hollywood Bowl. New York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital Archives. http://archives.nyphil.org/index.php/search?search-type=singleFilter&search-text=hollywood+bowl&doctype=visual&sort-order=asc&sort-column=npv:SortID&page=1#assetId=809a361e-bf40-4ac3-a4b0-fa560111dd01-0.1]
Cynthia Navarro, Los Angeles, CA
Peter and the Wolf
My earliest memories of music begin at the turn of the century, around 1999-2000. Since my parents were both classical musicians, they had an extensive CD collection with a huge variety of music for themselves and for me. I loved listening to the different CD's as a kid, and one of my favorites was a performance of "Peter and the Wolf" by the New York Philharmonic, conducted and narrated by Leonard Bernstein. This story made music come to life for me, as different instruments took on the characteristics and actions of different animals. To this day, I can recite Bernstein's narration word-for-word and know the central melodies by heart. His interpretation of the storytelling part of this piece was one of my favorite aspects of this recording; he was wise without being arrogant, kind and still sage. He was just like a grandfather imparting musical and moral intellect to the next generation through story. I've also actually used this recording to teach other kids how music can mirror the natural world and come to life, trying to do Bernstein the justice he deserves for doing the same for me and, no doubt, countless others.
Dear Lenny . . .
In the early-mid 1970s, I was a geeky, violin-playing kid whose #1 hero was Leonard Bernstein. Until I figured out that, unfortunately, I didn't possess the talent. I had plans to be the first female music director of the NY Philharmonic. I read every book on Bernstein, watched every TV show, owned every album I could of his compositions and his conducting. My room was full of his pictures, as was my violin case. And for 3 years, during a hard time in my life, I kept a journal, every entry of which was a letter addressed, "Dear Lenny."
In those letters, I told him everything that was going on in my life, and when my mother left my father for another woman, I told him that, too. I heard the rumors that Bernstein was gay as well, and while it broke my heart to think about his family because we were going through the same thing. There were times when I am 100% sure that what got me through the roughest days was writing those letters.
A lot of time has passed since then. But he is still my #1 hero. I still love (and have memorized!) every one of his compositions, and they have formed one of the most important constants of my life. It seems to me that since I was old enough to care about things, there was always Lenny in my life. I know he never knew about me, but I'm grateful to him for so many things--for the joy that Songfest and Mass, Kaddish and Serenade have brought me, and also for being there as a sounding board when I needed someone non-judgmental to "listen." Thank you always, Lenny. :-)
Elizabeth TeSelle, Nashville, TN
My first experience with Lennie was at Tanglewood as a chorus member when he conducted Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis". I fell in love immediately. In Munich, I convinced Harry Kraut to let me sit in on rehearsals of "Tristan und Isolde" and I remember how much Lenny smoked during rehearsals. In Tel Aviv I heard him conduct Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde" with Christa Ludwig and Rene Kollo, and I saw his final performance at Tanglewood conducting a birthday concert of Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony. Most memorable of all, however, again at Tanglewood, was sharing a cigarette with Alexander Bernstein. Next to my own father, I miss him the most.
Helene Kamioner, NY
Memories of a legacy
I saw Lenny a couple of time in the 80's at the Concertgebouw, performing Mahler. His Mahler 9th is an experience I will never forget and which has made a huge impact. I also attended some retake rehearsals. He was one of a kind, and his legacy is still so strong (compared to other famous conductors). Thinking about him and the wonderful music he made brings back emotional and warm memories and I feel kind of blessed having seen and heard his genius live.
A new generation of conductors has since his death appeared and in interviews most of them would have liked to work with him), so I feel privileged. I don' t think we will see the like of him in my lifetime.
So, here's to Lenny, a glass of Jack Daniels and a cigarette ;-) cheers!
Gerard, Delft, Netherlands
As a young conductor in 1987, I followed the courses Maestro Bernstein was giving at the American Conservatoire in Fontainebleau, for students of the Paris National Conservatoire of Music.
He was extremely nice and attentive to all the students. At one of the intervals, I stayed alone in the auditorium. After few minutes, I heard a voice singing "Depuis le jour où je me suis donnée" from Charpentier's "Louise". I turned my head, and saw the Maestro coming back, alone. He didn't see me, and continued to sing, while walking to his desk. I stayed there, alone with him for a while. Maybe am I the only one who heard Leonard Bernstein singing this great aria of the french Opera repertory, which he used to know so well.
A week after my mother passed away.
Emmanuel JOEL, Montpellier, France
Nice Guy Lenny
As an economics major at Boston College I signed on as an usher at Symphony Hall in Boston because I love classical music but can't play an instrument or read music to this day. During that time, LB payed occasional visits to conduct the Boston Symphony and on one of these visits noticed me in my usher uniform patrolling the hallways. He asked me if I was studying music and I replied no, economics. He smiled and then unexpectedly asked if I wanted to come back the next day to sit in on his rehearsal with the BSO.
I sure did and I will never forget it. Thanks, Maestro!
Gaffney Feskoe, Woodbury, CT
The Congress of Strings (1986)
In 1986, I was an administrator for the Congress of Strings, a wonderful program sponsored by the American Federation of Musician locals in the U.S. and Canada to send talented string musicians, aged 16-23, to a site to learn to perform in an orchestra. That year, the Congress of Strings was in residence at Barnard College, and I remember one of the key events was attending a rehearsal of the New York Philharmonic with Maestro Bernstein conducting.
These were the days before cell phones and I remember, I was called onto the stage to take an emergency call from Barnard security in reference to a student.
Maestro Bernstein had just arrived and was standing right next to me while I took the call, I remember he was wearing the most amazing white feather coat on (and of course it is July in New York City!), was smoking a cigarette, and was accompanied by a very good looking male companion. I ended up missing most of the rehearsal because I was called back to campus. I have never forgotten this moment and think of Maestro Bernstein every October 14th-- the day he died and the day I celebrate my birthday. His music will live on forever in my heart.
[Image: Leonard Bernstein conducting. New York Philharmonic Digital Archives. http://archives.nyphil.org/index.php/search?search-type=singleFilter&search-text=leonard+bernstein&doctype=visual&sort-order=asc&sort-column=npv:SortID&page=49#assetId=3bcc4951-f921-442b-8b01-d9a2b2ff002a-0.1]
Roseann Fitzgerald, Worcester, MA
My Last Meeting with Lenny
The last time I really met with Lenny was in the summer of '88 when I stopped by the Schleswig-Holstein Festival while en route to Fontainebleau, doing the ubiquitous post grad-school euro-rail trek. Freshly grieving my father's passing, I remember walking into the sacristy of the Lüneberg Cathedral, just after the dress rehearsal of the Mozart Requiem, and Lenny greeted me with: "what's wrong?" My grief was written all over me I guess, and of course he was wonderfully solicitous and caring. Indeed, that night I was invited to join him, Justus Frantz, and the whole retinue at this wonderful outdoor Italian Restaurant somewhere in hills of the North German countryside. So I'll never forget the next afternoon, after the performance of the Requiem, I went back again to the sacristy to congratulate him, and while giving me his giant bear hug Lenny whispered in my ear, "that was for Ed" - a gesture of kindness I'm still processing after all these years.
After the performance there was a reception in what I remember as the dome-shaped, medieval town hall. As things were eventually winding down, Lenny happened to mention he was hungry; and I'm pretty sure this nearby restaurant either re-opened or stayed opened into the wee hours for him -- for us, as I was again happily invited along.
As we filed into this elegant Keller, Lenny asked me to sit next to him to catch up. And so after we went through the then ritual of recalling each of our near yearly encounters over the past five or so, for the first time he asked if hadn't we met before our first Tanglewood summer where I had been his composition Fellow. Surprised, as this had never come up, I replied that a couple of years before Tanglewood he had come to Curtis to guest conduct and I had met him more or less in passing (although I sang in the chorus for his Chichester Psalms and there had been one memorable party where both he and Isaac Stern showed up!). He said, no, wasn't there a time before that? -- which left me astonished. And so I related that a couple of years before that I had gone backstage and greeted him after he guest conducted a Spring matinee with the NY Phil. He said, yes, that's it! Why would he remember that? And then came the quizzing: "And what did we perform that day?" I told him that I had gone to hear the Symphony in Three Movements, but also on the program was the Brahms A-Major Serenade - at which point, without a doubt, came the greatest musical lesson I ever experienced: the two of us (a bit drunkenly) began singing the first movement of the Brahms. I'll tell you, spontaneously dividing up parts, singing Brahmsian hemiolas and two-against-three RHYTHMS with Leonard Bernstein - a kind of do or die, rise-to-the-occasion phenomenon - is probably as close as I’ll ever get to a Buddhist transmission.
Paul Brantley, New York City
A Young Leonard Bernstein Conducts Student Orchestra
I remember the day Leonard Bernstein came to the Music and Art High School's 8th term orchestra. There was a hush when he came down the aisle to the podium. It was when he took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves and every young woman in the audience sighed and swooned. He was as handsome and talented as a young man could be. It was a memorable moment.
[Photo: Bernstein conducting the New York City Symphony, 1945. Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/lbphotos.45a051/]
Adele Dinsky Olson, NJ
At Tanglewood in 1965 & '66 I was a Fromm Fellow, which included singing with the BSO. When Lenny conducted us in a concert version of 'Carmen', right at the end of the Finale the audience stood up and rushed towards the stage in the Main Shed and I thought we were all going to be swept away by the sea of bodies. Goose bump performance!
[Image: Boston Symphony Orchestra concert program, Tanglewood Series, Summer 1966, Festival of Contemporary Music, Concert 4. Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives. http://collections.bso.org/digital/collection/PROG/id/533365]
Lloyd Burritt, West Vancouver, BC, Canada
121 W 27 St, Suite 1104, New York, NY 10001
© 2017 The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc.
Site by Bandwidth