Leonard Bernstein at 100
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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
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
Bernstein and Midori at Tanglewood
I had the good fortune to watch Bernstein conduct on several occasions.
One time that I will never forget was at Tanglewood. Midori was the soloist, performing a work of Bernstein's. Bernstein conducted with his typical dramatic flair. Midori, still quite young at the time, played so intensely that, twice, she broke the E string on her violin. The first time, the concertmaster handed her his violin; the second time the associate concertmaster did the same. Bernstein did not miss a beat; neither did Midori.
[Photo: Leonard Bernstein and Midori with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood on July 26, 1986; Walter H. Scott/Courtesy Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives]
Willys Kals, New York, NY
Jamie Bernstein visiting a NY Phil Rehearsal
Years ago, my Dad, Bob Serating was staff photographer at Lincoln Center, and he took this photo which was later used for a Columbia records album cover.
Arthur Serating, New York, NY
Hawthorne Cottage and the mysteries of the Enchilada
The scene is the Hawthorne Cottage at the Tanglewood Music Center – I am one of twelve young composers, from around the country, each with a composition fellowship to attend this most glorious of summer festivals. All summer there are the BSO concerts, performances of our own work, studying, learning, and, of course, the masterclasses in Hawthorne Cottage.
That day, midway through, about 11am, we are huddled around the piano discussing “the latest”... and now suddenly from outside, we can hear this low, mellifluous voice, speaking in a strange tongue, and apparently coming our way .......closer, ever closer, …..then, a pause …....the door opens, and there is an unexpected shaft of brilliant white light –-- a puff of cigarette smoke, and then, a "being" enters... white deck shoes, a white jump suit, white hair,....., a few steps and he occupies his “space” as only he can with that ultimate self-confidence, being so comfortable anywhere, at any time... and instantly, realizing who it is, we all stand, at once, in silence, for the oracle....he takes a seat....we continue to stand...then, in that deep all-knowing song-like way, ” Oh please, don't let me interrupt you.....”. We continue to stand.....”Well, I just want to be sure that all of you are having a good time here... but be sure you don't over cook those “enchiladas”.....A laugh.....
…..What did he mean ?
Soon, and with no further comment, he rises out of his throne to leave us.... I thank him for providing me my Leonard Bernstein Composition Fellowship....”Well, you are quite welcome......” And just like that, he is gone – taking the bright white light and enveloping smoke with him..............“Enchiladas” ?.............
Happy “100th” Maestro !!
David Winkler, New York, NY
Avery Fisher Hall, 1984 - Mahler's Symphony No. 2
I had the honor and privilege of singing with Leonard Bernstein as one of the members of the St. Patrick's Cathedral Choir for four nights in January, 1984 at Avery Fisher Hall. We performed Mahler's Symphony No. 2, C minor ("Resurrection"). Getting to meet him and rehearse with him and see this genius in action, up close and personal was one of my most memorable lifetime experiences. Thank you to the choir and for the chance to meet him and perform on stage with him!
Patty-Ann Burke, New York, NY
Your Money's Worth
September 20, 1987. Orchestra Hall, Chicago. Vienna Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, conductor. Mozart Symphony No. 39, Sibelius Symphony No. 5, Bernstein Symphony No. 1 "Jeremiah" with Christa Ludwig, mezzo soprano. Fabulous concert. Brilliant music-making.
My wife and I were determined to meet the maestro following the concert. How to get backstage? Try the musicians' locker room. No luck. Someone suggested the back alley. An alley behind Orchestra Hall. Seriously? It began to drizzle. Around and down the alley. A grey limousine pressed against a back stage door. A small group, 10 or so, gathered around. An assistant informs us that the Maestro must catch a plane and will have no time to greet us or sign autographs. Mr. Bernstein appears through the door, head down, towards the back seat. He looks up, sees our small crowd, turns to us and pushes the car door shut. He walks toward us. It was as if no one had ever greeted him after a concert. As if no one had ever shown any interest. He was so gracious. Signing autographs, shaking hands, speaking to each of us. It was so touching. He was so kind. He said to me, "You certainly got your money's worth today," referring to the concert with three symphonies. He signed my program.
I have never ever seen eyes that shined more brightly than his.
Patrick Reynolds, Dayton, Ohio
Chichester Psalms' original boy soprano
How nice, that the great maestro Bernstein chose a young Daniel Oren as the soloist of Chichester Psalms, one of his masterpieces among his own compositions.
As soon as Maestro Bernstein heard Daniel Oren singing only two notes, he said: "It's him I was looking for."
Here they are together, right after the performance, live from Jerusalem. It was the first thing transmitted on the Israelian TV overall.
Daniel Oren, Tel Aviv
Bernstein and Burkat at Boston Latin School
My father Leonard Burkat met his friend Lenny at Boston Latin school in band class in the 1930s. Even then my father said that Lenny was not like any other high school aged musician ever. There was something special that was obvious then. My father went on to write about music in thousands of program notes while his friend went on to write and conduct music. The two remained friends until Lenny's death and my father died about a year later, 25 years ago as of August 23, 2017.
Caroline Burkat Hall, Danbury, CT, United States
Conducted by Leonard Bernstein as a 13-year old
On 17 April 1966, Bernstein conducted the London Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in a performance of Mahler's 8th Symphony, 'Symphony of 1000'. My school (Highgate) sang the Boys' Choir part, and I was in the Choir. Bernstein had unbelievable energy in rehearsals. His shirt was soon damp with sweat, and he had to change shirts frequently. His energy radiated through us, the orchestra and all the massed choirs. It was a real privilege to take part. Later it was recorded.
Much later - in the late 70s/early 80s - I sang in many performances of Chichester Psalms, including in Canterbury Cathedral.
Bernstein was a genius who died far too young. And unlike much of the Left of today he saw no conflict between his support for human rights and his support for Israel.
Jonathan Hoffman, London, England
A Day with Lenny
I was recommended to Jack Gottlieb by Sid Ramin to come into the apartment at the Dakota and help Lenny program a synthesizer for the American premiere of "A Quiet Place". What should have only taken a few hours took all day, because Lenny loved to talk about everything from his recent recording of "Tristan and Isolde" to Cicero's orations in the Roman Senate. But, since I brought my own Prophet 5, I had to plug into something to hear it, and so I set up next to his stereo system to plug into that. And I vividly remember what he had on his turntable : Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing".
Kinny Landrum, Sleepy Hollow, NY, United States
Titty Tweakers of America
I was 16-years-old when Bernstein was visiting my hometown of Houston, Texas to premiere his final opera "A Quiet Place." I tried everything possible to meet my musical hero.
Only, I wasn't counting on the fact that the only opportunity I'd get to meet him was at the Gay Men's Chorus of Texas barbecue swimming party. The assistant conductor had an invitation and knew I wanted to meet Lenny. I thought this was my only chance.
I saw Bernstein across the pool yard of the hotel with his cowboy hat, cowboy boots and his swimming trunks and big belly. I was swimming and was told he was heading in my direction. I got out of the pool and put out my hand to shake his and say: "Hello, Maestro ..." His hand went right past mine and he tweaked my tit. And he said: "titty tweakers of America strike!" And he turned and he walked away.
And that bizarre poolside encounter was the start of my conducting career. Once dressed, I plucked up the courage to approach Lenny again.
I waited around to finally get to talk to him. I told him I played in a rock band but was a serious musician and would love to study with him if possible. I don't know, maybe he just thought my curls were cute, I have no idea, but he said: "so, come tomorrow and we'll study a little bit'. It was that simple. And I have dedicated myself to his music ever since.
If I could have predicted the future and said: Maestro, in 25 years, I will be the one to premiere your Candide at Teatro alla Scala, he would have toasted me with his scotch, and said: "From your mouth to God's ears, and given me a kiss." And yet, 25 years later after that tit was tweaked, I did.
John Axelrod, Seville, Spain
The Wedding Ring
When my wife and were to be married in December 1994, she asked me what did I want my wedding ring to look like. I showed her a picture of LB's. 23 years later, I still wear it! HBD99LB!!
Andrew Yates, Kansas City
Museum of Broadcasting Project
I remember playing Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody no. 12 at the event the evening prior to the Museum of Broadcasting 'Leonard Bernstein: The Television Years' exhibit. The dinner/concert took place at the St. Regis Hotel in NYC in September 1985. As a result, Maestro Bernstein sent a letter of recommendation to Acting President Gideon Waldron at The Juilliard School toward a New York recital debut. I was honored as the third recipient of the Juilliard William Petschek Piano Debug Award in Alice Tully Hall on April 14, 1986. I am forever grateful to this generous and brilliant man.
Jeffrey Biegel, New York
Lenny and Steve Dyer
Steve Dyer was the concert and artist director for Baldwin Piano. Dear friend of Lenny's and ours.
Suzanne and Marc Machbitz, Honolulu
A Bench Across the Street
My son Andrew acknowledges that Leonard Bernstein was responsible for his deciding at age 10 to become a conductor.
This is a story about another conductor. I suspect you may not know the profound admiration and respect in which Bernstein was held by one of the Soviet Union’s top conductors at the height of the Cold War. Yevgeny Svetlanov, Music Director of the USSR State Symphony Orchestra, was one of my closest friends. How I met Svetlanov and what he asked of me following Bernstein’s death could be a story from a Russian novel.
When Andrew was 9 years old, I was spending a lot of time on business in Canada. I had missed “Fathers Visiting Day” at Andrew's grade school three years in a row, and I promised him that no matter what I would be there next time. I was in my Winnipeg office the day before “Fathers Visiting Day” intending to take an evening flight home. My highly efficient secretary alerted me at noon that a massive blizzard blanketing the East Coast was forcing cancellation of all flights into New York. She booked me into Montreal by air with a seat on the overnight train to New York. I would get to Andrew’s school on time.
The train was delayed departing Montreal. Along with most other businessmen I found my way to the packed bar car. When we finally got under way, US Customs & Immigration officers came into the bar car and ordered passengers to return to their seats for Customs check. Everyone complied except me (I had just received my drink) and a table of men at the opposite side of the car. I noticed the Customs man getting angry with the men at the other table who seemed to ignore his orders.
I heard them speaking Russian and realized they probably didn’t understand a word of what the Customs man was saying. I speak Russian, am of Russian heritage, studied Russian at Yale. I realized it was time to be a Good Samaritan. I approached their table and asked in Russian if I could be of help.
They gratefully accepted, stating they were Russian musicians booked on a flight from Moscow to New York that had been diverted to Montreal due to the blizzard. They hadn’t had anything to eat or drink in a very long time, didn’t understand why the Customs man was angry, and only wanted to be able to finish their sandwiches. I assured the Customs man that I would look after them and help interpret when he made his inspection. He agreed to let us remain in the Bar car.
On the way back to their compartment they again assured me they were simple musicians with nothing to hide…..but that if somehow the Customs inspector did not open a small black satchel under one of their seats, it might be helpful. Hell of a dilemma. As luck would have it by the time the Customs man got to their compartment, he was dead tired, couldn’t care less, and perfunctorily stamped their passports without opening anything. My new Russian friends assumed that I had something to do with it, threw their arms around my neck, and thanked me profusely for trusting them. They then opened the satchel and showed me the contents: bottles of Stolichnaya vodka. They took the satchel back to the Bar car and proceeded to treat all passengers to Stoly for the entire ride to New York. The satchel was empty by the time we got there. Never had bonds of friendship been forged so quickly and easily. My new Russian friends were Yvegeny Svetlanov and the First Chair men of the USSR State Symphony Orchestra.
They had no idea where they were to be staying in New York. Their impresario Sol Hurok was an old friend of my parents. I called Sol, who breathed a great sigh of relief, not knowing what had become of his missing musicians. I then called my late wife Norma advising that we would be having some new friends over for dinner that evening.
When Svetlanov met Andrew, he said “Andryusha, I understand you play piano; play me something”. Andrew, even at 9, never had to be asked twice. Svetlanov commented: “Yes; Andruysha, you have talent, but talent is never enough. You must work! Scales and exercises! Who knows? Some day you may be a soloist with my Orchestra”
……But that’s another story for another time.
Suffice to note that from that day forward Svetlanov was never in New York without our getting together. Thanks to Hurok, the USSR State Symphony often toured here.
Svetlanov truly became like one of the family. I will never forget his first visit after the death of your father. He asked me if perchance I knew where Leonard Bernstein lived.
Your father had been living at the Dakota, a few blocks away from our home. Svetlanov said, “Please take me there. I want to sit on a bench across the street, silently communicate with him, let him know how much I love and admire him”. Which he did. But that was not enough. Svetlanov then asked if I knew where your father was buried. I drove him to the Green-Wood Cemetery. He placed flowers on the grave.
Politicians exploit differences. Musicians overcome differences.
George Litton, New York, NY
Leonard in black and white
When an occasional TV special was aired in the 1960's, it was indeed special. Watching a Leonard Bernstein special as a kid in black and white was seeing something you had never experienced before. Pre-Super Bowls and pre-Beatles, Leonard Bernstein was the first Rock Star I had seen on TV. Giving classical music to a prime time audience was unique for its time. He could connect with his ability to cross his music over to lovers of many different genres.
Brian Hayden, Buffalo, NY
Music Teacher at Westminster Choir College
I graduated from Westminster Choir College in 1990. Singing in the symphonic choir, we were exposed to many of the great conductors of the 20th century. Bernstein was by far my favorite. I vividly remember him explaining conducting gestures and other terminology using every day language; language that everyone could understand, not just trained musicians. That made such an impact on me, I became a teacher. I figured if Lenny could teach like that, so could I. Pictures of Lenny are all over my classroom, office and music studio in my home. 22 years strong. I only wish I had been able to tell him this in person.
Kathy Anderson, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Even a child understands a true artist
Four days after my ninth birthday, I heard on the radio that Leonard Bernstein died. I was sitting with my mother in the kitchen in suburban Chicago. When I heard the news, I asked her who Leonard Bernstein was, and I still remember her telling me with sadness that he was a famous musician in New York. I felt a strange and unsettling loss, like my own grandfather had died, without even knowing who the man was.
Later on in life, I listened to Leonard's recordings, read his biographies, watched his Young People's concerts and lectures, and came to know and love him almost like he was a friend. To me, he will always represent the passionate pursuit of expression and and a love for beauty in spite of the pain and tragedy of life. And in an increasingly coarse and vulgar world, Leonard Bernstein reminds me that art matters.
Matt Walter, Los Angeles, CA, United States
121 W 27 St, Suite 1104, New York, NY 10001
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