Leonard Bernstein at 100
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Lehren und Lernen
As a teenager, back in 2009, I fell in love with classical music, but it wouldn't be until 2015 that I'd discover the magic of Bernstein's music, through an astounding performance of Brahms "Academic Festival Overture" on youtube.
From then on, his passion, stamina, and vigorous/emotional performances drew me in, and I've been hooked ever since. But my real moment with Lenny came with watching "Teachers and Teaching," while I was studying language in college. His approach to studying and teaching was what motivated me to become a teacher myself, although I'm not a music teacher, his ethics and compromise are essential to every area in pedagogy as well as his approach.
Last year, I came up with a list of everything I've researched, read or watched about the genius himself. It can be seen here: http://listography.com/ububel/leonard_bernstein/documentaries__lectures_and_books, and OF COURSE classical.org is there. Thanks for the opportunity to share my experience with the master, though we never met, I am thankful for his legacy as a conductor, musician, teacher AND as a person of mesmerizing talent and personality.
I recently purchased two biographies. One of them, by Joan Peyser, is actualy a bit older than me (I was born in '92, this edition is from '89). The Humphrey Burton one seems a bit more interesting, due to chronological order of facts, but both are a great portrait of Lenny as a person.
I look forward to seeing and learning more about him with you.
Again, thanks for the opportunity!
Bruna Conrado, São Paulo, Brazil
This specific event took place in the small town of Lüneburg. I don't recall if it was maestro Bernstein's second or third visit to the Schleswig Holstein Musikfestival, but I do remember that we have had many vivid philosophical and theological discussions about the matter of God for quite some years before this concert. I was a skeptic, coming from a left-wing household, being an emigrant in Germany after the military coup in Chile which took place on September 11,1973. Although filled with many doubts, that particular day I felt already in heaven. I was the luckiest person on earth, spending time with my childhood hero, living music and listening to music. Everything seemed possible. We arrived in a limousine coming from Hamburg with Craig Urquhart and for some reason, Lenny gave me the score of Mozart's Requiem as we were getting out of the car. That was the moment this photo was taken. I found a seat, somewhere in the church, with the orchestra, and what happened then, I cannot fully remember or describe. I can just say, that at some stage I felt God's presence in that room. It was like I could literally touch Him. Somehow through Mozart's music and all that love emanating from the orchestra and the singers, He (or She) had manifested Himself. It was a spiritual experience unique to that moment, which I have never had in my life again.
Alvaro Rebolledo Godoy, Hamburg, Germany
I'll never know...and that's okay.
Somewhere in the last ten or so years of Leonard Bernstein's life, I read an interview wherein he bemoaned the fact that, due to the demands of his formidable conducting schedule, he had no time to compose. I was so moved by the emotion with which he expressed himself that I took it upon myself, as an ordinary fan, to write him a letter. In it, I said something to the effect of "Dear Mr. Bernstein ~ Perhaps there is no other conductor who can conduct as masterfully as you. But, certainly, there is no one else on Earth who can write the music that you have living within you. If you don't take the time to write it, it will be lost to us all." I never knew if he ever received the letter, but I am heartened beyond measure whenever I have the opportunity to listen to the music he DID take the time to write in the last years of his life. Nor would I ever presume or hope to imagine that my letter would have made a difference. I'm just grateful that some angel whispered in his ear, and he listened.
Camille Vettraino, Frankfort, MI, United States
Young People's Concerts
I can vividly remember being glued to our small black and white tv in the mid-50's listening to Leonard Bernstein describe classical program music, like Peter and the Wolf, to me. I was honored and thrilled that he could explain these exciting pieces before the orchestra played each selection. He also gave us a Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. I imagine that awakened my continuing love of all music. He made music so accessible, and as soon as I could I participated in music training in the greater Chicago area. At the time, I didn't know all composers/conductors weren't so gifted. I grew up at the perfect time to see Bernstein's development in several genres. (Please attach a few video/audio clips of these examples to accompany my memory.)
Beth Weikel, Woodland Park, CO, United States
Only if your name is Leonard Bernstein!
After her divorce, my aunt had a long term and loving relationship with a teaching colleague of hers by the name of Lenny Bernstein. Lenny was born in the Bronx, probably in the nineteen thirties. My aunt and Lenny had a weekend place in West Stockbridge, MA, for many years and were Tanglewood acolytes/devotees. One summer afternoon at Tanglewood they were walking past the lawn or some picnic area and Lenny noticed a group picnicking, sharing an elaborate spread on the grass, with fine wines and food. Lenny was an extremely outgoing and friendly guy and loved good food, so as he wandered past he said something to the effect of “Wow, that looks really good! Can I join you?” To which one of the picnickers said, jokingly, “You can if your name is Leonard Bernstein!” And with that Lenny pulled out his driver’s license…
Dave Bronston, United States
Always Remember Bernstein 永远怀念伯恩斯坦
The greatest symphonic musician of the twentieth century. 二十世纪最伟大的交响乐家
Steve Liao 廖勤力, Lanzhou, China 中国
Letter for Lenny
This is not really a memory, but for me it is more than that. I thought a lot before writing this letter: Will I show it to Bernstein's fans or not? And I decided, yes i will show it! I hope you like it:
You don't know me, but i know you. It was 3 years ago, in the morning. I was channel surfing on my TV, when I stopped on a show called "BBC proms". And I, an opera lover, started to watch the show. One hour later and the show was over. But before the end, an artist preformed "Glitter and be Gay". My heart stopped. My soul stopped, too. I love the song and the next day I asked my mother to buy the "Candide" album. I listened and I loved the entire thing. Then I started to buy other works by you. I can't write the amazing feelings I have when I listen to your music. When I listen your music I have the feeling I must be a maestro and I must know how to compose. Because of you, I now study that.
And what is my memory with you if you died in 1990 and we are in 2017? Well I never spoke to you, I never shook your hand, I never had a dinner with you. "So" you say "you don't have a memory". Yes I have.
I don't need to have dinner or speak to you to have a memory. I have the best you can give: Your music Lenny, your music is in my heart forever.
Happy 100 Mr. Bernstein
Rest in peace
Ivan, aged 16
Ivan Rodrigues, Albufeira, Portugal
Peter and the Wolf
As a child at 3 or 4, I remember my mother introducing my siblings and me to Peter and the Wolf. I loved to hold the album sleeve, which had a picture of a young boy in a cap waiting, as Leonard Bernstein introduced each instrument and the character it represented. I sat for hours listening over and over again to that album. On the flip side were selections from the Nutcracker. That side was played repeatedly at Christmas time.
When I became a music teacher I searched for a copy to play for my students. There was a warmth and familiarity to Leonard's voice that I did not find with other narrators. It was as if a beloved relative was in the room telling the story.
Leonard Bernstein's Peter and the Wolf will always be a favorite that not only because of him, but its connection to time with my mother.
Linda Linnell, Portland, ME, United States
Young Person's Family watching the Young People's Concerts
Television was a carefully controlled hazardous substance in my upbringing. We three kids each got to select one show per week to watch, and we could watch our siblings' choices—so there was much behind-the-scenes negotiation. But there was one TV show my father chose, and it was the only one we were required to watch with him (it didn’t take much urging)—Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts. We would take our accustomed seating early so we could catch the images of kids coming into Carnegie Hall, an image that flashes in me to this day when I enter Carnegie Hall. We wouldn’t talk to one another during the Concert, we were too focused. And we would talk about it afterwards, usually prompted by my dad. It was a ritual; one with amplified meaning because it resonated with the rare sense of unified family and my father’s love for orchestral music. Leonard Bernstein was a quiet hero in my growing up, and he was my first teacher about the depth and beauty of the high arts.
In later life, I did get to see LB conduct live, and later when I worked at Tanglewood, they even assigned me his bedroom to stay in. I worked with the Bernstein Center when it launched in Nashville, have come to know and love his children, and to this day I am on the Board that oversees the remarkable work of Artful Learning. But…none of it compares with the power of that family semi-circle in the den in the fifties and sixties. Learning how to love music as a family.
Eric Booth, High Falls, NY, United States
I have arrived in Israel repatriating from the Soviet Union a youngster, 16 years of age on September 29th 1990. Just over two weeks later I attended my first concert of the Israel Philharmonic with Isaac Stern as a soloist. That evening it was announced that last night Leonard Bernstein has passed away in New York... I have never seen, before or after, the entire audience of over 2000 people in tears. He was beloved in Israel beyond what words can describe. Since that day I was fascinated with LB. Bernstein's legacy is stupendous, and that is an understatement. His writings, lectures, recordings influenced my perception of music and musician in the society. His music accompanies me for years, making me cry with with sorrow and joy - from the Age of Anxiety, Mass, Kaddish, and of course to my beloved Serenade. I have been playing this piece for over 20 years, it truly is a part of my DNA. One of the greatest violin concertos of the 20th century, an absolute masterwork, it offers the widest possible range of emotions and challenges for everyone on stage, and rewards us with the most extraordinary joy from each and every note played and heard. I can't wait to be back this season in London and San Francisco with two of of my favorite orchestras, the San Francisco Symphony and the BBC Symphony to celebrate the life of a great man - Leonard Bernstein!
Vadim Gluzman, Chicago, IL, United States
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, CA, United States
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, United States
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, MA, United States
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, United States
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, United States
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, United States
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, United States
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, United States
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.
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, NY, United States
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, United States
Bernstein and David Grunschlag in Beersheba
This is something my father told me about Bernstein in Israel in 1948:
My father David Grunschlag was a member of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and one of its concertmasters. The road from Tel Aviv to Beersheba was just opened up after fierce fighting during the War of Independence. The orchestra was looking for volunteers to go to Beersheba to play for the soldiers. My father told me that "Lenny" was the first to volunteer, and would not be dissuaded even though there were many unexplored mines along the way. If you look at the iconic pictures of the concert you can see that only a handful of musicians went - my father never forgot Lenny's courage and dedication to Israel and adored him for the rest of his life.
Years later when my father decided to join his family who were refugees from Europe in the States, it was Leonard Bernstein that helped him come here, and my father joined him and the New York Philharmonic for the 1959 summer season at Lewisohn Stadium and the European tour. When he joined The Philadelphia Orchestra, it was always special for my father when Lenny came to conduct. He would come home energized and joyous to have seen him and play again under his baton.
My father is the first violinist to the right of Lenny at the piano in this iconic photo.
Dorit Grunschlag Straus, New York, NY, United States
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, United States
Let’s Go to Gustl!
In the early 70s, when I was living in Salzburg, I came to love the music of Mahler through exposure to the work of Sir George Solti. After I settled in Vienna, where I worked for the publisher, Fritz Model, I became familiar with Leonard Bernstein’s work with Mahler through his public rehearsals with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
After having attended a number of these, I determined to find an appropriate gift with which to thank him for the joy I received from attending his rehearsals. Upon the advice of my wise mother, I took him a gift of her Vanillakupferln, a crescent shaped Austrian baking delicacy. Bernstein loved them, and invited me to join him and his entourage. We became fast friends. Lenny often invited me to join him in the Green Room after rehearsals and performances, and I was privileged to attend his recording sessions, including his legendary Mahler recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic.
When Leonard Bernstein sojourned in Vienna, the city took on a very special magic. Just the possibility of seeing him again filled me with joy. His rehearsals were usually scheduled for 3PM, while I was supposed to be at my desk until 5PM. May my then employer, Fritz Molden, forgive me for having found the most improbable excuses to absent myself in order to attend at least a few of his rehearsals.
One such day, I escaped from work in Grinzing in my tiny Puch 650 and drove to the
Musikverein. When I arrived, the Vienna Philharmonic was already tuning its instruments. A profusion of powerful spotlights, cameras and cables engulfed the orchestra. Lenny’s friend and manager, Harry Kraut, appeared nervous. Lenny entered the Golden Hall and greeted his musicians. One of Mahler’s symphonies was to be rehearsed.
Lenny raised his baton, the rehearsal started, but soon broke off. Over the loud speaker came the instructions from the recording studio to rearrange the microphones. The orchestra began once more from the beginning. After yet another futile beginning, the recording equipment had to be rearranged yet again. Technicians and cable runners mixed with the musicians, who gradually became restive. Some had to leave for an evening performance at the Staatsoper. A new attempt is made. After a few bars, a spotlight burst over the double bass. Yet another interruption. The mood darkened. Nerves frayed. Lenny once more raised his baton. This time he halted the play through. A particular passage didn’t please him.
“Gentlemen, please, like this…” and Lenny hummed the passage. “Please, more tempo…”
Thrice Lenny broke off. These bars simply would not come together. Harry Kraut excitedly approached the Conductor’s podium and whispered in Lenny’s ear. Lenny’s face became somber. He called a break and disappeared into the control room.
In this break, I did not join Lenny in the Green Room, as I otherwise frequently did.
Something must have happened. The break, in which yet more microphones were switched, lasted an unusually long time. Some musicians looked nervously at the clock. At last Lenny returned. “Gentlemen, we have a technical problem. The sound quality is miserable. All that we have rehearsed and recorded is unusable. I hope we can resolve the issue by tomorrow. We don’t have much more time. In studying the score, I have noted some passages that I would like to practice with you!”
He put his reading glasses on, and flipped through the score: “Please, second movement, rhythm. . .”
At all the music stands pages turned. A loud murmuring could be heard. Lenny gave the entry. Repetition followed upon repetition. Nothing worked. I felt sorry both for Lenny and the musicians. As a choral singer, I often experienced rehearsals where the desired result just could be achieved. So it was this afternoon. At last, the Concert Master pointed to the clock. Lenny rested his baton: “Thank you gentlemen. I am sorry. Until tomorrow.”
Both hall and podium emptied hurriedly. Lenny seemed depressed. I asked myself if I should, as we had agreed, join him in the Green Room. I felt he would need peace – today everything had gone wrong. I couldn’t suppress my own anxiety. I had just decided to smoke a cigarette and go home when Harry Kraut, in some agitation, walked out of the Green Room: “Hello, Renate! Why aren’t you with Lenny?”
“I don’t want to disturb him. Today wasn’t a good day for him. It pains me to see him suffer.”
“We have just about resolved the technical problems. Please, go to him, he is alone. I must still deal with the damned technical issues. Lenny has already asked for you. I think your company would do him some good.”
Harry disappeared into the recording studio. I had my doubts. Should I really go to Lenny? Was Harry in earnest? In contrast to the Viennese, I have found the Americans to mean what they say. So, off I went to the Green Room.
Lenny sat on the sofa, his sweater soaked in perspiration. He smoked a cigarette and looked into the distance.
“Oh, my darling. How wonderful that you are here!”
Lenny came joyfully to me and pressed himself exhaustedly against me. I don’t know how long this silent embrace lasted. I had the feeling I had a child who need comforting in my arms. We smoked a cigarette on the couch. Lenny lay his head on my shoulder, his silver cup filled with whiskey before him, and repeated every detail of his unhappy rehearsal. I listened in silence. He seemed relieved. Off the Green Room there was a washroom. Lenny pulled off his sweaty top, washed himself, and changed into fresh clothes. He sat again and leaned against me. I took him into my arms. We didn’t speak a word.
While Lenny lit another cigarette, I said “Last year you directed Mahler’s 6th . I was at all the rehearsals. I heard that concert on the radio and could discern all the details you had worked on with the orchestra. It was a wonderful morning. Mother and I were enchanted. After the concert we went Grinzing Cemetery and laid flowers on Mahler’s grave. A small thanks for this wonderful music.”
Lenny looked at me pensively, then suddenly said “Let’s go to Gustl. – Yes, Renate – let’s go to Gustl.”
The thought of visiting Mahler’s grave seemed to give him wings. In front of the
Musikverein, Lenny’s chauffeur waited. Lenny directed him to wait for Harry Kraut while he went with me in my car. And so off we drove to Grinzing Cemetery. Section 7, row 2. Gustav Mahler has an unpretentious headstone, designed in 1911 by Josef Hoffman. A single daisy bloomed on the mowed grass. Lenny held my hand. Thoughtful and silent he stood before Mahler’s last resting place. He pointed to the daisy: “Look, Renate, Gustl is giving us a sign of life!”
I cannot properly describe the next few minutes. Lenny - who just an hour ago appeared devastated - now seemed, from the proximity or presence of his favorite composer, so possessed that he began a conversation with him. He directed and sang some passages that, in his opinion, could only in this way – and in no other – be interpreted in the spirit of Gustav Mahler. It seemed as though Gustl had placed his work in Lenny’s hands, and had given his seal of approval to Lenny’s interpretation.
More than that, Lenny became Gustav Mahler.
Even if I, a silent and fascinated observer, couldn’t understand and divine everything that transpired in Lenny’s soul or thoughts, I am unendingly grateful that I shared this
unforgettable moment with him. With a deep, respectful bow, he parted from Gustl as if from an old, beloved friend.
Leonard Bernstein was transformed. He appeared both exhausted and energized at once. He took my hand and kissed it: “All my life I have occupied myself with Gustav Mahler. I have studied his scores again and again. I believed that I really knew him. But today, for the first time, I have come face to face with him. – Renate, I thank you.”
Renate Wunderer, Vienna, Austria
121 W 27 St, Suite 1104, New York, NY 10001
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