Friday, August 24, 2012

All things Lenny

Jennie and Lenny
Composer's Datebook reminds us that on today's date in 1943, Leonard Bernstein accompanied  singer Jennie Tourel in the premiere of his new song cycle I Hate Music! And on the day after, Artur Rodzinski invited the 25-year-old musical polymath to be Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic. Later that year, Tourel and Bernstein gave the New York premiere of the same work  at Town Hall. The very next day, Bernstein subbed at short notice for Bruno Walter, during the Philharmonic's Sunday afternoon national radio broadcast, live from Carnegie Hall. The event made the front page of The New York Times, and his legendary career was up and running. This account of the episode by Minnesota Public Radio's Bill Morelock gives a lot of juicy background.
After the recital there was a party at Jenny Tourel's apartment on West 58 th St. There was food, drink, Bernstein played boogie woogie improvisations on the piano; but the possibilities, the dangers, Richard Strauss, Robert Schumann, Miklos Rozsa and all of America listening made Bernstein discipline himself for what Sunday might demand of him. Normally he was the last to leave a party. This night he decided to be more prudent. He left between 4:30 and dawn.
After a couple hours of sleep the call came at nine. Walter could not go on. Bernstein would have to conduct at three that afternoon. There would be no time for rehearsals with the orchestra, but Bruno Walter had agreed to go through some of the scores with him, and give him a few pointers. Bernstein arrived at the hotel to find Walter wrapped in blankets. He was "kindness personified," according to Bernstein. He showed him the ins and outs of Don Quixote, where to cut off here, or give an extra upbeat. Bernstein drank it all in like a man lost in the desert. And then all he had to do, according to Walter, was to hang on. Calls went out from the offices of the New York Philharmonic to music critics around the country. This was a radio broadcast, an event of national interest. Radio bound the nation together at the height of the war in a way no other medium could approach.
Further reading: Leonard Bernstein: American Original: How a Modern Renaissance Man Transformed Music and the World During His New York Philharmonic Years, 1943–1976. 
Listening booth: Composers on Broadway—Leonard Bernstein / Bernstein conducting Mahler, Stravinsky, and Mozart.


  1. Sometimes, the substitute teacher turns out to be better!! What a great stand-in:) Wally Pipp syndrome...

  2. Wow that's pretty fascinating, what an glorious debut!!!!

  3. It's really a shame that the radio industry isn't as pervlalent as it used to be. I still enjoy listening to radio talk in the morning and such.