Leonard Bernstein at 100
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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
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, United States
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, United States
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, United States
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
"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
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, United States
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, Israel
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
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
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, OH, United States
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, United States
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
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, United States
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
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, UK
Mine is indirect in that it was told me by a late friend Eric Chalkley, a carpenter with Croydon Borough Council and cruciverbalist. Apparently Mr. Bernstein would get his chauffeur to drive from the Barbican Hall to Croydon where he would talk and do cryptic with Eric. There was photographic and other evidence for that in Eric's small flat.
The Listener Crossword, hardest of all cryptics was their favorite. Stephen Sondheim was another such cruciverbalist.
[Image of one of Leonard Bernstein's crossword puzzles]
Tim Moorey, London, UK
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
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
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, New York, NY, United States
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
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, United States
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
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
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