Leonard Bernstein at 100
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Meeting LB after a concert in Washington
When I was a student at Peabody, a friend and I went to hear LB conduct the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center (all-Brahms, with Kremer and Maisky). We decided to go back afterwards to greet him. The usual throng, organized into a reasonably orderly queue. After a suitably intensifying wait, Bernstein entered; he began to go down the line, shaking hands, chatting a bit with everyone, generous as always. Suddenly he stopped, stared for a moment at a tiny old lady toward the back, rushed over to her, grabbed her in his arms (did he lift her up?), kissed her, turned to everyone else and shouted, "this is my Hebrew-school teacher!" He turned back to her and, still with her in his arms, began to chant a Haftarah (his own Bar-Mitzvah Haftarah?) to show he still remembered it perfectly, and it was perfect Ashkenazi cantillation. Ever since then I know how to phrase the 2nd movement of "Jeremiah".
Jerome Hoberman, Hong Kong
A Letter to Bernstein, c/o Seiji Ozawa
Living in East Berlin in 1987, I listened to a Tchaikovsky symphony conducted by Bernstein. It touched me so deeply, that I could not help but I had to write him a letter. But how to bring that letter out of GDR? And, without any address, how to make sure that the man would receive it? So I addressed my letter to the Boston Symphony Orchestra and asked Seiji Ozawa if he would be so kind as to hand the letter to his friend. Shortly before Christmas 1988, I received a lovely reply. It reminds me of the fact, that nothing is impossible. For me, Leonard Bernstein is very much alive; in his music, with his soul, and in the way of his entire being - as a musician and as a man.
[Photo: Seiji Ozawa chats with Leonard Bernstein in the Green Room at Symphony Hall, ca. 1980. Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives. http://collections.bso.org/digital/collection/images/id/2026/rec/8]
Marina Müller McKenna, Kefaloniá, Greece
Tribute concert in Cleveland
I grew up in the era of his youth concerts and I lived in Cleveland. I attended what I believed was probably a tribute concert to Leonard Bernstein and I got close to him after the concert in the winter when he was in a very very heavy fur coat. I was very impressed. What a talented individual.
[Photo: Leonard Bernstein in rehearsal. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division . http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/ppmsc.03255/]
Craig Horst, Mendoza, Argentina
Singing Happy Birthday Lenny at Met Opera Carmen Rehearsal
On August 25, 1972, I sang "Happy Birthday, Lenny" as a child chorister to the Maestro during a rehearsal break of Carmen on stage at the Metropolitan Opera! Lenny of course was the conductor of this production and the entire cast, crew and staff surprised him with a large birthday cake. He was truly delighted and could not resist conducting our rendition of "Happy Birthday"!! He attempted to kiss all of us but was stopped because rehearsal had to resume. I received my kiss on opening night. Yes, Lenny kissed me!!
[Photo: A stage rehearsal of Carmen at the Met in September 1972 with Bernstein, stage director Bodo Igesz, Horne and stage director Fabrizio Melano. E. Fred Sher/Metropolitan Opera]
Diane Fanizza, New York, NY
Young People's Concerts-NYC-Early 1960's
As a child, I attended quite a few "Young People's Concerts", which Maestro Bernstein led in the early 1960's in his capacity as conductor of the NY Philharmonic. He made a lasting impression. I remember him at one concert describing Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" and evoking so vividly the vision of someone walking down the hall at a museum and looking at the paintings. As an adult, I had the opportunity to watch him conduct on numerous occasions but it was his ability to teach and connect with a young audience that has always stood out for me as one of his great talents.
Willys Kals, New York, NY
A life-changing experience
1970, Tanglewood. As a Fellowship student in violin, I was blessed to be playing in the orchestra for a phenomenal Bruckner 9th Symphony. From the very first moment he stepped on the podium, Lenny changed my life. I was so fortunate to be sitting in the 3rd chair of the first violin section, where I could watch his every move, every raise of the eyebrow. The opening notes were 'too loud, too loud.' We tried mightily to capture what he was asking for. Then he moved - barely - his little finger on his left hand. We crept in. 'That's it!' he cried. And we were off and running. Every note of that piece, everything Lenny taught us - not only about Bruckner, but about music and love and feeling and more - is ingrained in my memory and in my soul. He really believed in us, our youth, our talent. Thank you, Lenny, for these gifts you bestowed on us. We miss you and will never, ever forget your blessings!
[Photo: Leonard Bernstein conducts a rehearsal of the Tanglewood student orchestra. Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives http://collections.bso.org/digital/collection/images/id/839/rec/28]
Erica Miner, Edmonds, WA
The Magician Who Changed My Life
I first encountered Maestro Bernstein as an elementary school kid growing up in Metuchen, NJ, in the 1960's-we were incredibly fortunate to be brought to a Young Person's Concert once a year by the school system. No doubt those magical, sublime encounters were a big reason that I ultimately became a conductor and composer and teacher. As an undergraduate at Westminster Choir College in the 1970's, I vividly remember LB saying to us before performing the Beethoven 'Missa Solemnis', "If you are the same person after singing this tonight as you are right now, go back to Princeton, dig a hole in the ground, jump in, and pull the dirt in on top of you-you're already dead and you just don't know it yet." That kind of passion and overwhelming commitment to honoring the truth of the music with total focus and presence: that's the kind of musician Lenny wanted all of us to be, or become.
[Photo: Leonard Bernstein conducting at the Westminster Choir College from the Westminster Choir College Archives Photograph Collection. https://cdm15457.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16471coll2/id/110/rec/9]
Dr. Jerry Custer, Ann Arbor, MI
A quick reference to Leonard from class...
In 1989, I was studying Scenic Design at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, under Oliver Smith.
One day, Oliver nonchalantly said,"When we brought Lenny up from Philadelphia...". I think we all took a collective breath when we realized he was talking about Leonard Bernstein and 'West Side Story'.
Needless to say, I think we all needed a minute to absorb the information, especially given the casual manner in which Oliver said it.
[Image: Mickey Calin, Ken LeRoy and dancers in "The Rumble" scene from the stage production West Side Story (set design by Oliver Smith) from the New York Public Library Digital Collections
Raffaele Castaldo, New York, NY
Meeting the Maestro backstage at the NY Philharmonic
From "The Luxuries of Unharried Time" by Webster Young, at Amazon.com books - part of a passage on meeting Leonard Bernstein:
"As I was trying to gather my wits, he said something completely unexpected. “Haven’t we met before somewhere?” I heard him say. He seemed very convinced that we had met, and I began to wonder about it myself. Finally I said, “No, I don’t think we have met, although you may have seen me at Juilliard when you gave the master classes in conducting and James Conlon was a student - I was a guest sitting at the back of the orchestra.”
During these moments I was realizing what a great human being he was. He seemed to take nothing for granted. He had complete respect for an artist in my position, believing that it was possible that I - or anyone who came to him as I had—might be important in the future. He communicated this in his very manner, with a sense of importance that we had met, and an artistic empathy for anyone who might have high aspirations in the arts. This is one reason he is so well liked and remembered in the world of music.
Webster Young, Boulder, CO
Inspiration for a lifetime
Though I was born a full seven years after Mr. Bernstein's death (almost exactly seven years), from the moment I heard the music as conducted by him (it was a Mahler symphony) I have been glued to the screen, watching everything which had been touched by his hands I could find, from his Young People's Concerts to the Harvard lectures and the magnetizing performance of "Tristan und Isolde".
To me, beside his obvious captivating personality, Bernstein showed a musical skill which is to me unmatched in recent history. I think Mr. Bernstein is not only the greatest conductor of the last century but also among the greatest composers that ever lived, revolutionizing form and content with "Candide", his Mass and basically everything else.
Though born after his death and therefore unable to possess a real memory of the man himself, I remember him as one of the chief influences in my entire life, not merely musically but in everything.
Life, had Leonard Bernstein not existed, would be unthinkable.
Antoine Bosch, Netherlands
Concert: London UK, Barbican Hall, 28 June 1987
What a wonderful memory I have. I was in London on holiday from my home in South Africa, arrived the day before and managed to get a last minute ticket for the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra with Leonard Bernstein conducting Mahler's 4th Symphony and for him to receive the Royal Philharmonic Society Gold medal presented to him by Sir Michael Tippet. I still have the program and even the review of the concert headlined "Bernstein's perfect partnership".
I now live in Toronto and know you will be at Koerner Hall on the 6th April 2018 so maybe can then show you the above!
Bernice Baise, Toronto, ON, Canada
Leonard Bernstein conducting the LA Phil with Heifetz & Piatigorsky at the Hollywood Bowl
My name is Gerald Robbins. I'm a classical concert pianist and member of the music faculties of Manhattan School of Music, Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College, CUNY, and Hoff-Barthelson Music School in Scarsdale, NY.
In 1963, I had made the acquaintance of both cellist Gregor Piatigorsky and violinist Jascha Heifetz. I had recently won the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Award, in which Mr. Piatigorsky was honorary president of the Young Musicians Foundation in Beverly Hills, California. As the result of winning the Debut Competition, I was scheduled to perform the Beethoven Triple Concerto at the piano, together with Lawrence Foster conducting the Debut Orchestra in collaboration with my colleagues, violinist Toni Rapport, a student of Mr. Heifetz, and cellist Nathaniel Rosen, a student of Mr. Piatigorsky, who kindly coached us in the Beethoven in preparation for our performance.
On September 1st, 1963, Mr. Piatigorsky and Mr. Heifetz were scheduled as guest soloists to collaborate on the Brahms Double Concerto at the Hollywood Bowl with Leonard Bernstein conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It was an all-Brahms concert that included the Academic Festival Overture, the Fourth Symphony, and the Double Concerto. It was a magnificent and unforgettable performance that remains in my mind as one of the greatest concerts I had ever attended.
But what made it so personally special to me at the end of the concert was that I was introduced to Maestro Bernstein by both Mr. Heifetz and Mr. Piatigorsky who had both heard me perform at the Debut YMF final concert, and who were to engage me soon after the competition to assist as pianist for their string Master Classes at the University of Southern California.
I had already so many wonderful childhood memories of Maestro Bernstein's television performances on CBS's Omnibus and the New York Philharmonic's Young People's Concerts, that I was so deeply thrilled to be introduced to him backstage by both Mr. Piatigorsky and Mr. Heifetz. Their wonderful collaboration together at the Hollywood Bowl still remains an unforgettably vivid and joyful memory.
Mr. Bernstein was so very warm, gracious, and encouraging to me in my future pianistic concert pursuits. Here is a link that was posted of that historic concert at the Hollywood Bowl. I hope it brings back to you, wonderful memories of Mr. Bernstein, Mr. Heifetz, and Mr. Piatigorsky: http://pastdaily.com/2013/08/21/jascha-heifetz-gregor-piatigorsky-leonard-bernstein-live-at-the-hollywood-bowl-1963-past-daily-mid-week-concert/
Gerald Robbins, New York, NY
He returned to the Chicago Symphony for the first time in years in the late 80's. I was an extra percussion player and was invited to play for concerts in Chicago and NY for the Shostakovich 7th Symphony. Needless to say the 2 weeks with him were unforgettable and we all knew that he wasn't well.
After the spectacular performance in Avery Fisher Hall, he was waiting backstage with a glass of wine to say goodbye to everybody. When it was my turn I thanked him for the magnificent music-making and also said an old Yiddish expression, zei gesunt, which means "go in good health". His eyes opened wide and he said "you wanna drink?" I took a sip from his glass, he kissed me on the cheek, and that was the last time we saw him.
[Image from Bernstein's marked score of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 in the New York Philharmonic Digital Archives: http://archives.nyphil.org/index.php/artifact/52b54c6d-70ab-4118-a741-48954fd3df56-0.1/fullview#page/10/mode/2up]
Jim Gordon, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Stunning Schubert rehearsal
When, in my dog years in the eighties, I was working at an Amsterdam concert agency, the director took me to a rehearsal of Bernstein's where he prepared for a concert with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. It was Schubert's 8th symphony, 1st movement. After some waiting for LB to come down the stairs and begin the rehearsal, the door opened to a small, fragile figure, a worried look on his face, and we could just see he put away a bottle in his pocket from which he seemed to have drawn some courage or energy. After that, he quickly tripped-down the staircase and resumed his position at the rostrum and suddenly this quite short and fragile man transformed into something great and radiant, leading the orchestra through this entirely worn-off old war horse in a way which breathed new, fresh life into the notes, as if the music had been written just the day before. The difference between the anxious, fragile figure and the extrovert, generous personality molding the orchestra into a grand musical experience, was most striking. Afterwards we met the man, who was very kind and attentive to two people completely unknown to him. We told him how impressed we were, but he asked anxiously: 'Did you hear my recent recording of Mahler IX?' We had to admit we had not as yet bought the CD, on which he turned away from us with a sigh and a facial expression of deep disappointment. I found all this quite touching for it showed the incredible combination of artistic greatness and assurance in front of the orchestra and an almost childlike insecurity when away from the rostrum. Why would he care about two unknown people whether they had or had not heard his recording? Obviously, we had expressed our well-meant admiration which he drank-in passionately, but his recording mattered most to him. No doubt, that recording is great and his stature was, and still is, unassailable. But he also was a very vulnerable person, and that is somehow to his credit, he was not made of stone and that was the secret of his talents, I think.
John Borstlap, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Leonard Bernstein's 50th birthday
August 25, 1968
Palais des Beaux-Arts Brussels Belgium
The N.Y. Phil was on tour in Europe. It was the first time I heard Leonard Bernstein "live". It was a unique experience. Berlioz "Symphonie Fantastique" was absolutely fantastic. Goosebumps from the beginning to the end. Also very impressive when he jumped almost 1 meter high, to communicate his feelings.
Went backstage. It was incredible, no one seemed to know that it was his 50th birthday.
I congratulated him for the exceptional performance and for his birthday.
"Hey, how do you know it is my birthday?"
"Because it is also my birthday."
"Aha! How old are you?"
"Oh! I wish I were."
[Image from the New York Philharmonic Tour Program Aug. 25, 1968, Palais Des Beaux-Arts New York Philharmonic Digital Archives: http://archives.nyphil.org/index.php/artifact/fe77d757-03b7-4554-91b8-00effa559021-0.1/fullview#page/1/mode/2up]
Carlo Schreiber, Menton, France
Mahler Ninth at Carnegie Hall
I attended Leonard Bernstein's concert in Carnegie Hall with the Israel Philharmonic performing Mahler's Ninth Symphony. Leonard Bernstein is my classical music hero. And when I noticed in the New York Times the concert, I jumped at the chance to hear one of the most dynamic conductors ever. Driving down from Boston and then finding someplace to park my car, and finding a hotel, was actually very exciting for me. I parked my car across the street from Carnegie Hall, risking the car being towed, I ran in to the box office, received my ticket and ran back to my car. After finding my hotel and I rode the NY subway to the concert hall. I finally made it to Carnegie Hall and I did not have to practice. I sat up in the 2nd tier dead center, nosebleed seat.
When Bernstein came on I noticed how sprite he was for his age. He paused a moment and then started the symphony in the lower strings and muted horn. The third movement was very exciting, the movement is in rondo form and Bernstein conducted it in breakneck tempo. All I remember is how slowly the final movement went. The concertmaster of the Israel Philharmonic was on one knee for more expression. I mean this was one of the most powerful musical experiences I have ever heard. Also was amazed of the musicians concentration playing the final dying notes.
[Image from Bernstein's marked score of Mahler's Symphony No. 9 in the New York Philharmonic Digital Archives: http://archives.nyphil.org/index.php/artifact/52b54c6d-70ab-4118-a741-48954fd3df56-0.1/fullview#page/10/mode/2up]
Robert Phlean , Brookline, MA
I recognize this music!
Back in the sixties, when I was about 5 or 6 years old, my father put me and my brother in the bathtub, every Saturday evening. In this occasion we often heard him sing or hum all kinds of music, mostly classical. Once he did so very enthusiastically: tatata tatata táa táa táa. I asked him: Dad, what are you singing? And he explained. Eventually, a few years later, we all watched 'West Side Story' on television. Then came the chorus/ballet 'America'. I recognized this music! It made such an enormous impression on me. For days I couldn't think of anything else but this music. My love and admiration for Leonard Bernstein's music will never end...
Herman Lemmens, Tongeren, BELGIUM
I am 61 years old and was a classical piano prodigy in Cincinnati when I watched the Young People's Concerts on the family black-and-white TV. I was mesmerized and learned so much.
Fast forward to 1978 when I was just in New York City as a young jazz pianist on the scene. I was playing with the wonderful flugelhornist Art Farmer at Sweet Basil, a jazz club in the Village. One night, Leonard was at the bar. Art must have been aware of this because we played "Some Other Time" from "On The Town". I went up to him at the bar after the set and he said some nice things about my playing, a thrill. But I was also shocked at how short he was - on TV he seemed to be this huge presence. It is a very fond memory for me.
Fred Hersch, New York, NY
Once in a Lifetime
In 1977 (or '78), I was singing with the Choral Arts Society of Washington, D.C. On the program was "Chichester Psalms", which we were to perform with the Israel Philharmonic and Maestro Bernstein conducting. I had been chosen to sing the short alto solo in the first movement. When it came time to sing it in front of the Maestro in rehearsal for the first time, I was petrified and could barely squeak out my part. He was very encouraging, even for the short time I sang. At a break, I was bold enough to ask to speak with him about the solo. He was kindness and patience itself, giving me a mini-coaching on each note of my little snippet. This whole experience was just icing on the cake of the already mountaintop experience of singing under his baton for this amazing concert.
Marjory Klein, Lawrenceville, NJ
I met Mr. Bernstein when I was in college. He came to rehearse our choir in preparation for a concert at Lincoln Center. It was the turning point in my life. While an amazing composer and conductor, he is the most amazing teacher. Because of him, I became a teacher.
Kathy Anderson, Owings Mills, MD
I met Leonard Bernstein at the final audition of Candide with Scottish Opera. I was a bit of a fan, and he was very gracious. I was amazed how emotional he was during the rehearsal and it was genuine. He was hearing some of his music in this opera setting for the first time, so it was understandable. John Mauceri did a wonderful job.
Tying into my major hobby in the early days of the web and since my knowledge had increased so much, I created a website called Arias & Barcarolles, The Leonard Bernstein Pages.
James McGonigal, Edinburgh, Scotland
Haydn Lord Nelson Mass in Westminster
I recall rehearsing the Haydn Lord Nelson Mass with Bernstein as a choral singer in the Westminster Symphonic Choir, at one point he stopped and said: "This is such great music, I wish I'd written it!"
Ira Spaulding, New York
Mourning JFK with Mahler
On the evening of November 22, 1963, I was able to truly experience the depth of sadness that I was feeling in the hours after learning that President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas that afternoon.
Watching the non-stop TV coverage on CBS of the consequences of that awful event, I was fortunate enough to see and hear Leonard Bernstein conducting his New York Philharmonic in their memorial performance of Mahler's "Resurrection " Symphony. I was a 17 year-old high school student in the small south Louisiana town of Opelousas, never having heard a note of Gustav Mahler's music - but having seen and heard many of Bernstein's Young People's Concerts. From the first shocking string tremolo, through every wrenching note of this threnody, to the final soaring achievement of symphonic resurrection, I sat spellbound and weeping. I was overcome, but at the same time comforted by Mahler's and Bernstein's uncanny ability to evoke musically the mourning that until then I hadn't been able to understand fully or to express either to myself or to anyone else.
This Mahler performance was for me a revelation of the power of Mahler's musical vision. It was the kindling of a lifelong fascination with all of his compositions. Unfortunately, I never heard Leonard Bernstein conducting "live " in concert. But his unique artistry is alive for me. I have the hundreds of recordings by him in my digital collection, topped by the memory of the first Mahler performance he seemed to have conducted just for me. It remains etched in my musical soul.
Michael David Moore, Westport, CT
"Do as angels that fly away in the sky"
I will always keep in mind my only encounter with Leonard Bernstein.
It was in March 1970, and I was 11 year old. He went to France to conduct the Orchestre de Paris and three choirs for the 3rd Symphony of Gustav Mahler. During one rehearsal, he wanted a very specific diminuendo for the end of the singing part. As he did not get the result he wanted after different trials, he then gave an explanation:
"faites comme anges qui partent dans le ciel" (do as angels that fly away in the sky)
The image was the good one for the boys choir, and he greeted us immediately for this wonderful nuance. After one of the concerts, I had the opportunity to meet him in his dressing room in the backstage. He took time to explain me who Mahler was and what was behind his symphony. And even it was difficult to understand because of my misunderstanding of English, I kept the principal in ideas.., because he really wanted me to go back with the most important information about both subjects. This is really one of the most exceptional moments I will keep all my life.
Antoine Hua, Asnières-sur-Seine, France
121 W 27 St, Suite 1104, New York, NY 10001
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