Memories

The hands!
My dad played viola in the Philharmonic - he was hired by Bernstein in his first year. I met "Lenny" a couple of times. The one that stands out, for some reason, occurred on a flight of stairs somewhere in Philharmonic Hall (as it was known then), in maybe the early 1970's. We shook hands. He wasn't a tall man, but the power in his hands, his body, and his personality really impressed me. Those pianist's hands were like slabs of granite.
Jon Nigrine, Flushing, MI, United States
Video
How Bernstein's "Mass" changed my life. Yale production New Haven, Ct. & Vienna 1972/1973
In 1972 and 1973 I was a member of the "Street Chorus" in the Yale productions of Bernstein's "Mass" in New Haven, CT, Vienna, Austria and Public Television"s "Great Performances". I was a member of the New Haven community at the time and auditioned my way into the production. "Mass" changed my life and has shaped it ever since. As a result of the "Mass" experience, I have gone on to have a wonderful life as a Choral Music Educator. Working with a friend I am going to produce a video chronicling that experience and its life altering impact. I know there are many others who were in this production who had their lives impacted also. It is my hope that I represent them and the power of Leonard Bernstein's life-work well. Wish me luck!!!
Michael P. Adam-Kearns, Eastford, CT, United States
Memorable Car Rides at Tanglewood
As a starry-eyed Fellowship student at Tanglewood in 1970, I not only had an entire week of intensive learning in Bruckner's 9th Symphony with Leonard Bernstein, but I also was among the privileged few who were invited to ride around the Tanglewood grounds with him in his car. After rehearsal, on those days when his big boat of a car was waiting for him at the entrance of what was then the Concert Hall, he'd say, "Hop in, kids, let's go for a ride!" So we'd all pile in - sometimes Jamie, Alex, and/or Nina would be there with us - and Lenny would drive around, one hand on the steering wheel, the other hand gesturing at all the stunning beauty surrounding us. He'd quote poetry and sayings about the beauty of nature - Emerson, Thoreau, and others. But who remembers exactly who he was quoting? I was riding in Leonard Bernstein's car!! It wasn't until much later, when I became a music lecturer and did research on Lenny's history with Tanglewood, that I discovered that Koussevitzky had done the same for his students when Lenny was a student back in the 1940s. So Lenny channeled his beloved teacher and mentor - and gave us the same unforgettable experience.
Erica Miner, Edmonds, WA, United States
New York Philharmonic
In my high school days, after a big family Sunday dinner, I would hole myself up in the kitchen while keeping everyone else out, as I did all the dishes. That way I could listen to Bernstein and the beautiful music without any kitchen help talking and making noise to interfere with the concerts. I loved it!
Lillian J. Sindel, CO, United States
Cowboy Lenny
I remember going to Lincoln Center, getting the cheap $5 student seats and watching Lenny play Copland - the all American, western based sounds of Copland - and getting into character as he was leading his cowboys into the music. That image of him - bringing himself and his feelings into the music - is stuck in my brain.
Mo, CT, United States
Let's Play Opera Quiz
I certainly remember Leonard Bernstein when we were both in residence at the MacDowell Colony during 1962. Lenny was always open and greatly charming. I remember one evening having drinks before supper seated outside and talking with Lenny. At one moment he said to me: "Ray, you are Italian, let's play opera quiz. We will each in turn, give the opening lines to a specific Italian aria and we will take turns guessing from which opera the aria belongs". Well, Leonard won, of course. (As I remember it was from Verdi's "Otello" that I missed).

Another evening at an informal gathering at his studio, Leonard at the piano suggested that we both sing Mimi's death scene from "La Boheme". He said I should sing Mimi! I replied firstly that I was not a singer and obviously it is a soprano role. Lenny said no matter I will bring the pitch down. So he did and so I sang Mimi's great death aria "sono andati...." My one and only operatic debut!

Leonard always looked for and brought out the best in people.

Photo: Eastman Studio at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire; courtesy of MacDowell Colony.
Ray Ciarrocchi, New York, NY
A warm welcome from Leonard Bernstein
I went to the MacDowell Colony for the first time in the early '70s . I arrived late on a Sunday afternoon. The Colony seemed deserted. I cautiously entered the largest building in sight, and found myself in the lounge. There was only one person there--Bernstein. I knew from the papers that he had just been in Washington conducting the premiere of a new oratorio. It had received very unfavorable reviews from the critics. What was he doing at MacDowell? He was in flight from the bad publicity, I decided, and licking his wounds. But he was gracious and generous to me. He greeted me, explained where I was, where the dining room was, how to find my bedroom in an adjacent house. That was the last I saw of him. But I'll always remember that warm welcome to MacDowell, at what must have been a tough time for him.

Photo: Wood Studio at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire; courtesy of MacDowell Colony
Samuel Hynes, Princeton, NJ, United States
The Young People's Concert
I liked when Leonard Bernstein let comedian Danny Kaye lead The New York Philharmonic at The Young People's Concert!
Jeffrey Witt, Rockville Center, NY, United States
April 14, 1982 'Songfest' at the Royal Festival Hall, London
As the head of marketing for Laskys we has a strategy of sponsoring classical music concerts and the most important one for us was the Leonard Bernstein 'Songfest' at which we had over 100 invited guests with a post concert reception at which Leonard Bernstein chatted with many guests. My first job at the reception was to give LB a scotch and dry. A most amiable man who said call me Len. He signed the programme for me. A memorable evening, enjoying somewhat different music from West Side Story.
Ron Taylor, Harpenden, UK
Video
Remembering the original Broadway production of West Side Story
From the first audition to opening night, Carol Lawrence recalls her experiences working with Bernstein in the original 1957 Broadway production of West Side Story.
Carol Lawrence, New York, NY, United States
Video
Trying to teach Bernstein how to say "Yo Mama"
Quincy Jones remembers the time he spent his last dollar on West Side Story in 1958 and how he spent 10-15 years trying to teach Bernstein how to say "Yo Mama".
Quincy Jones, Los Angeles, CA, United States
La Consagración en laSala Nezahualcóyotl
En 1982 yo tenía 22 años. En aquellos días Leonard Bernstein dirigió la Consagración de la Primavera con la Orquesta Filarmónica de Israel en la Sala Nezahualcóyotl en la Ciudad de México. Fue una experiencia incandescente que nos sacudió a todos; en particular a los muchachos que no teníamos idea de o que era un volcán en erupción. A partir de ese momento me hice asiduo asistente a conciertos de música del siglo XX y contemporánea.

In 1982 I was 22 years old. In those days, Leonard Bernstein conducted "The Rite of Spring" with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at the Sala Nezahualcóyotl in Mexico City. It was an incandescent experience that shook us all; in particular to the boys, that we had no idea that it was an erupting volcano. From that moment on I became an assiduous assistant to 20th and 20th century music concerts.
(English translation from Google Translate).
Salvador Olvera Chaidez, Ciudad de Mexico
A la memoria de las víctimas del SIDA
Me tocó en Amsterdam que Leonard Bernstein dirigiera la 4a Sinfonía de Mahler con un niño como soprano solista. Los versos y la voz cristalina de aquel muchacho dieron un sentido muy conmovedor a ese concierto en beneficio de las víctimas del SIDA. Yo acababa de perder a un amigo muy querido en medio de un sufrimiento devastador.

I played in Amsterdam for Leonard Bernstein directing Mahler's 4th Symphony with a child as a solo soprano. The verses and the crystalline voice of that boy gave a very moving sense to that concert for the benefit of the victims of AIDS. I had just lost a very dear friend in the midst of devastating suffering.
Salvador Olvera Chaidez, Ciudad de Mexico
Video
The importance of Leonard Bernstein and how he "showed all of us the way"
Yannick Nézet-Séguin discusses the importance of Leonard Bernstein and how he "showed all of us the way".

This interview was conducted in 2018 by the National Museum of American Jewish History, located on Historic Independence Mall in Philadelphia, as part of the original exhibition "Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music".
Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Philadelphia, PA, United States
Dentist to the Stars
Dr. David Saletan was my father's (Stan Watkins') best friend; as children we would go into New York City to have our teeth cared for. Lenonard Bernstein ("Lenny") was a good friend as he also went to Dr. Saletan who often charged his artist patients very little for his work. Lenny taught David's son Tony to play jazz on the piano; and we three girls, a few years younger than Tony, always made him play for us. Tony is still singing folk songs in California. His sister, Rhoda, was Lenny's girlfriend for a while, though she always insisted she was only "eye candy." I never met the great man in person, only vicariously through Uncle David's stories about Lenny.

Now I live in New Mexico and enjoy events at the Academy for the Love of Learning, started by Leonard Bernstein and his protege, Aaron Stern, in Seton Village near Santa Fe.

Happy Birthday Lenny!
Barbara Witemeyer, Albuquerque, NM
Leonard Bernstein, Leonard Burkat, Aaron Copland and Felicia Bernstein
A photo of a photo (unable to scan). The occasion I believe was Copland's birthday party at my family's apartment at 60 Sutton Place South in 1965.
Caroline Burkat Hall, Danbury, CT, United States
Video
Alec Baldwin sings his favorite Bernstein melody
Alec Baldwin discusses Bernstein's legacy and sings his favorite Bernstein melody.

This interview was conducted in 2018 by the National Museum of American Jewish History, located on Historic Independence Mall in Philadelphia, as part of the original exhibition "Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music".

On view March 16 - September 2, 2018. More info: https://www.nmajh.org/bernstein/
Alec Baldwin, New York, NY
Live in Neumuenster, Germany - July 1988
This summer marks the 30th anniversary of when my wife Daria and I had our first date. She and I met at a summer course in German language and culture, held at the Christian-Albrechts-Universität in Kiel, Germany. Participants had come from more than 30 different countries for one month, Daria from Italy and I from the United States. One evening a group of us decided to attend a festival concert directed by Leonard Bernstein, and Daria and I sat together. I will never forget her words: "Ich bin froh, daß ich bei keinem Fremden sitze..." ("I am happy that I am not sitting with a stranger"). We often look back on that summer evening in which Bernstein and the festival orchestra serenaded us. That initial spark lived on and gave us courage to build a life together, bridging our two continents against fate. Our story is so meaningful to us that we decided to return to Kiel this summer, exactly 30 years later, to relive this memory and attend one more concert of the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival. Thank you Leonard Bernstein and your dedication to students everywhere across these many years!

Photo: Leonard Bernstein rehearsing at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival in Germany, 1988.
Library of Congress Digital Archives: https://www.loc.gov/item/lbphotos.88a059/
Mark Lewis, Boston, USA
At the Maestro's Grave
In a shady corner of beautiful Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, in a family plot lies the great man. Encore, Lenny.
Patrick Stewart, Brooklyn, NY
Growing with Music
There was always music in my home thanks to my parents - classical and show music stand out in my memory.

That planted a seed. Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts nourished that seed and helped it to grow to a lifelong love of music. He explained the themes and ‘story’ in music so I recognized and understood them.

Music is the language of the soul, and Leonard Bernstein helped my soul to grow.
Barbara Traub, Mamaroneck, N.Y.
The Magic of Leonard Bernstein
The first time I played under the baton of Leonard Bernstein was for a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall, "Music for Life" on Nov. 8, 1987. I was a cellist in the orchestra, which consisted of musicians from many different groups around NY (I was principal cellist of New Jersey Symphony at the time). It was the first time the classical music community presented a benefit for the care of people with AIDS, a disease which had devastated the arts world.

The conducting duties were shared by Lenny and James Levine, with soloists Yo-Yo Ma, Marilyn Horne, Luciano Pavoratti, Leontyne Price, Murray Perahia and Samuel Ramey, and was recorded live by Deutsche Grammophon.

This experience playing under Lenny was a highlight of my musical life, and I remember every detail of the rehearsals and concert so vividly! Having seen and heard him conduct many times, I knew it was going to be something special, but I also remember having just a little bit of cocky, naïve skepticism and thinking, “Can he really make magic happen on stage? Ok, show me…”

The most thrilling moment of the concert for me was Lenny conducting the opening of "The Unanswered Question" by Charles Ives. The piece begins with the entire string section playing very soft sustained harmony, setting the mood for the solo trumpet up in the balcony. At rehearsals Lenny kept demanding a quieter, more magical sound from the strings, "No, no, no---too loud, too present, too earthly!" We tried again, barely touching our bows to the strings---"No, no---the sound isn't right...it must be more ethereal, from the heavens, from a distant planet!" Even at the final dress rehearsal it went on like this, Lenny still frustrated but finally forced to move on and get to the rest of the program.

That night, at the start of the concert he walked out slowly and stood solemnly on the podium a long time, looking around the orchestra into each musician's eyes and for me it seemed, right into my soul. The sold-out Carnegie Hall Gala audience was utterly silent as if holding their collective breaths. Lenny put down his baton and raised his arms in a balletic slow motion tai chi-like gesture. When they reached high above his head, one finger on each hand made an almost imperceptible motion---that was the downbeat. We all responded as one heavenly emissary, whispering a magical sound world that contained a universe of sorrow and hope. To this day I get chills recalling that moment, embodying the magic of Leonard Bernstein.


Barbara Bogatin, San Francisco, CA
Bernstein in New Orleans
In early September 1960 my roommate and I returned to Tulane to begin our sophomore year of studies. Both being musically inclined, we were excited about the visit of the New York Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein to New Orleans for a concert on September 13. Not having tickets, we managed to sneak into the Municipal Auditorium for the performance. The program included the Beethoven 7th Symphony and an especially brilliant performance of the Stravinsky Firebird Suite. After the concert we went backstage in hopes of meeting Bernstein, but were not successful, although we overheard someone mention that Bernstein, his manager and a few others were heading off to Brennan’s for a late after-concert supper.

On hearing this I, my roommate, and a friend of my roommate from Mobile headed over to Brennan’s and requested a table next to the Bernstein party. We were ushered to a small table immediately adjacent to a long table set for 8 or 9 people. Shortly after we were seated, Bernstein, his wife, his manager and several others arrived and settled in at the larger table. The group was engaged in conversation, celebrating a very successful concert, and we were unnoticed despite our proximity.

Now, during the concert, Bernstein had apologized to the audience for sneezing, mentioning that he didn’t have his allergy medicine with him - in fact he even mentioned the name of his hay fever remedy – Pyribenzamine. . Well, it just so happened that my roommate also had hay fever and had Pyribenzamine in our dorm room at Tulane. As the Bernstein party was ordering drinks we put my roomate’s friend in a cab and sent him in a taxi to retrieve the medicine. He returned with a couple of bluish-purple pills as the Bernstein party was finishing their meal. We called over our waiter and requested a small silver tray upon which we placed the pills and delivered them to Bernstein. Immediately recognizing the pills, Bernstein was most grateful and invited us to join him at his table. He mentioned that this was his first trip to New Orleans and that he was anxious to explore the incredible musical traditions of the city. He then noted that as young college students, we must know our way around the French Quarter and he asked if we would show him around to all the music venues.

At this point it is important to note French Quarter, notably Bourbon Street was very different in1960 that it is today. Bourbon Street was the focal point of New Orleans music – Dixieland and Jazz, with famous and not so famous bands and musicians performing from late in the evening until dawn. Today Bourbon street is a generally unappealing collection of cheap bars, strip joints, and T-shirt shops aimed at the tourist trade and not connoisseurs of New Orleans music. Today the local music scene has shifted has shifted to Frenchman Street and the Marigny.

So, we struck out a little after midnight joined by Bernstein, his wife, and 3 or 4 of his entourage and visited all sorts of places with New Orleans music. Our first stop was a local student favorite - La Casa de los Marinos. Aptly described in a wonderful article by George Gurtner, “Going to La Casa” meant a night of boozing, conga drum banging and dancing dances you never thought you knew with women you never knew. It also meant rubbing shoulders with motorcycle gang members, anti-Castro Cuban revolutionaries (many of whom eventually wound up stranded or dead on the beaches at the Bay of Pigs), transvestites, physicians, nurses, high school
classmates (nobody checked anybody’s ID at La Casa), strippers from Bourbon Street, Mafiosi and Mafiosi wannabes and characters who would become part of late District Attorney Jim Garrison’s “Kennedy Assassination Trial” circus. In short, anybody who was anybody - or nobody, for that matter - sooner or later wound up at the iconic bar, La Casa de Los Marinos, at the corner of Decatur and Toulouse.” Needless to say, Bernstein loved it.

From La Casa, then over to Bourbon Street for Al Hirt and Pete Fountain and all the bands in bars in between. It was very late when we arrived at Pete Fountain’s – Pete had just finished his last set for the night and Pete politely refused to play for Bernstein. By then only three of us were left – I, my roommate and Bernstein - we continued on, stopping in clubs, bars, and strip joints – anywhere there was live music along Bourbon Street and even in some of the darker corners of the French Quarter.

At dawn, as the sun rose over Bourbon street Bernstein looked up and gazing down the street, the gutters lined with empty beer bottles uttered a most perfect description of the scene: “It’s just a tawdry Venice.” He then returned to his hotel and sent his car to take us back to campus.
Christopher R. B. Merritt, New Orleans, LA, United States
Continuing the legacy
I moved to New York City to study with Maurice Peress whom I met at the Shanghai Opera house, where I was the assistant conductor.

Maurice worked very close with "Lenny", as he called him in private conversations. "I can smell a conductor", Bernstein told Peress at his interview in Lenny's studio across from Carnegie Hall. Through all of his stories, I feel as if I lived in that era, when Leonard Bernstein influenced an entire generation with his music, his humanity.

From Koussevitzky to Lenny to Peress, now to me, being part of the culture, continuing and expanding on what they have taught, sharing this with the orchestras, audiences and those around us. That is what makes conducting his works very special to me.

[Photograph courtesy of the Associated Press, June 5, 1972. Maurice Peress, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Leonard Bernstein]
Tong Chen, New York, NY, United States
Bernstein at Tanglewood
In the Summer of 1955, I sang the Beethoven "Missa Solemnis" under Bernstein with the Boston Symphony, a marvelous experience. In the Summer of 1956 I had the great fortune of playing the French horn in the Scratch Orchestra at Tanglewood, a once a week rehearsal for the conducting students. Also there were rehearsals on Saturdays for conducting students to learn operas. They were in the Hawthorne Cottage. A piano student there, Zita Carno, was a piano student at the Manhattan School of Music. She would read at sight, the opera scores on the piano. A conducting student would conduct her and Bernstein as he sang opera arias by memory. It was fantastic to experience these. Bernstein and Seymour Lipkin would have the Scratch Orchestra play well known symphonies under the direction of the conducting students. Since I could transpose parts at sight, in the various C clefs or Bass clef, I would play the viola, cello, or bassoon parts on the horn. My name then was Esther Sweigart.
Esther S. Rosenthal, Tanglewood, Lenox, MA, United States