Leonard Bernstein at 100
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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
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
121 W 27 St, Suite 1104, New York, NY 10001
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