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Leonard Bernstein’s New York Years


Half a century ago Leonard Bernstein took the helm of the New York Philharmonic — and changed American music. We’ll celebrate the maestro.

Conductor Leonard Bernstein in Austria, October 26, 1984. (AP)

Conductor Leonard Bernstein in Austria, October 26, 1984. (AP)

In the heart of the American Century, New York City was on top of the world.

The colossus of world wealth and energy and culture. And in the pinnacle of energy and culture stood Leonard Bernstein. From Broadway and West Side Story, to Carnegie Hall and Shostakovich, to CBS and the television nation, Bernstein –- conductor, composer, magnetic showman –- was everywhere.

Up next in an archive edition of On Point: New York looks back on Leonard Bernstein and the American Century.

-Tom Ashbrook


Barbara Haws, archivist and historian of the New York Philharmonic since 1984. She’s co-author of the new book “Leonard Bernstein: American Original.” The Philharmonic’s Bernstein festival begins on September 24.

Clive Gillinson, executive and artistic director of Carnegie Hall, and former managing director of the London Symphony Orchestra. A cellist, he played under Leonard Bernstein for the LSO. Carnegie Hall’s website features a special section devoted to this season’s Bernstein festival.

Tim Page, former music critic for The Washington Post, where he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1997. He’s now a visiting professor of musicology at the University of Southern California. He contributed an essay to “Leonard Bernstein: American Original.”

Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst and senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly.


Candide Overture: Leonard Bernstein conducting


Rebroadcast Aug. 30, 2011 at 11 am.

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  • joshua michael stewart

    I have a recording of Louis Armstrong performing St. Louis blues with Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic. Could you talk about that performance?

  • Scott Lowe (“Lau”)

    Ok, I’m hooked. What is a good starting place for a newly converted Bernstein fan? Is there a album that you can recommend as my first? Books? Lectures? etc.? What should I look for?

    (Richmond, Vermont)

  • Laura

    Get your hands on Deutschegrammaphone’s “Bernstein Conducts: West Side Story.” I got my copy on eBay about 5 years ago. You get to see all sides of this brilliant musician, conductor, composer and teacher with the best opera singers in the world.

  • lindy

    I was a BU music student in the ’70′s. A friend with press passes got us into the Green Room at Symphony Hall after Bernstein conducted Beethoven’s 6th. We knocked, and Lennie opened the GR door himself, wearing a bathrobe and towel. He looked his impossibly gorgeous, leonine self. We spent an hour with him grouped around the grand piano as he played his favorite sections from the symphony. A charming, engaging, magnetic person. We walked out on air.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    My mother dragged me to a number of Young People’s Concerts at Carnegie Hall including the wonderful Peter and the Wolf. I have fond memories of Bernstein speaking directly to kids. No dumbing down but from the heart concern that kids would get as excited as he was about the music, the composers, the musicians, their instruments and the history of classical music.

    I also have memories of running up and down the aisles during concerts. I’m not sure if those memories are true at this point but they might be. What an amazing time to be alive. I’m glad to have those memories.

    It could be done again but first you’d have to find another Bernstein and that would be tough. Still, if it were done I’d surely take my granddaughter so she too could run up and down the aisles and have the great memories I do.

  • Susan

    One of the listeners and a guest mentioned lectures Berstein gave at Harvard that were available on video. I would like to track this down. What is the title of the series? Any info on publisher? Thanks!

  • http://www.toughdonkey.blogspot.com Diane

    Not the cheapest place to find them no doubt, but Kultur has a ton of Bernstein DVDs. http://estore.websitepros.com/1652646/Categories.bok

    My daughter is a huge Bernstein fan, and we’ve bought her several of the series over the years – they are absolutely wonderful.

  • William

    I remember where I was when I found out Lennie had died: I was an undergrad running late to quartet rehearsal. When I arrived I found my three quartet-mates sitting outside the recital hall, smoking (not unusual). We were going to rehearse my second quartet which we were going to premiere in a few days on a programme with some Barber and Schostakovich and I felt badly being a few minutes late. When I got closer, I could see that they all had tears in their eyes. Silently, our first violinist handed me the New York Times and soon I was weeping, too.

    After some tears, we made our way to our rehearsal space and began with that famous Barber Adagio. After some more tears, we collected ourselves and continued our rehearsal.

    Lennie, whom none of us ever met in person (though had seen live on the podium) was such a major force in our musical lives that tears and music–rather than words–were the only expression we could find for our grief at his passing. Yet Bernstein lives on today and he will continue to touch the hearts of musicians and music lovers everywhere. He was clearly the most brilliant American musician of the 20th Century.

  • Rebecca Curtiss

    A great program! Terrific to hear again as at the Huntington Theatre Company we are deep in rehearsals for a new production of CANDIDE at the Huntington. Last week, director Mary Zimmerman offered one possible reason for the power of “Make Our Garden Grow,” the musical’s final number: (I paraphrase) the juxtaposition human beings singing the lyrics “We’re neither pure, nor wise, nor good” as they perform pure, glorious harmonies. Those near/visiting Boston can hear for themselves starting Sept. 10 at the Huntington. More information at huntingtontheatre.org/candide.

  • http://www.dpsinfo.com LaurieMann

    I’m so glad this show is being re-run.  Bernstein was one of my favorite composers.  West Side Story is one of the best shows ever, but his range really shows in pieces like Chichester Psalms.

  • Kevin

    I bet Jack Beatty has a hard time talking about On The Waterfront, given how it shines the spotlight on union corruption, a subject not talked about on the left. But the way, in what way is Beatty an expert in music, film, Bernstein, etc???

  • John – Williamstown, VT

    Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts & Looney Tunes did more to get the kids of my generation interested in classical music than any music class.  To this day when I walk in Symphony Hall in Boston or other halls it’s a disappointment to not find Lenny there.

    He was part of the ‘larger than life’ 60′s that included the Kennedys, Howard Cosell and Muhammad ALi.

  • Glbarnes

    Great to hear about the retrospective Bernstein performances in N.Y.C. Unfortunately the focus was almost exclusively on the Broadway compositions. As a retired symphony musician, my attachment is to the symphonic works like Chichester Psalms and the likes of the Serenade for Violin and Orchestra. I did appreciate remembering the Mahler Cycles. Does anyone remember the Sibelius cycle?

  • Emptoreruditus

    if Bernstein was the most important figure in American Music in the second half of the 20th C, pride of second place should go to Miles Davis-equally innovative as composer.  Point by point Davis’ career (also in NYC) paralleled Bernstein’s.  Did their paths ever cross?

  • Anonymous

    Very good show on Bernstein’s musical genius. Bernstein also touched my life as a child.  He was not only rare as an American and a Leftist. He was also notable as a successful bisexual man who repressed his gay identity out of common self-loathing of the times and career-based opportunism. How unfortunate for LGBT people that he was not capable of being a louder voice for the dignity of people of all sexual identities. 


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