Leonard Bernstein was a singular American genius. One of the great orchestra conductors of the 20th Century, he was also a composer of hit musicals like West Side Story, as well as symphonies and ballets. He was a teacher and television personality — his Young People's Concerts introduced generations of children to classical music.
A manuscript of a J.S. Bach cantata casts a new light on how Bach intended the piece to be played. A singer gains insight from a line in a Porgy and Bess manuscript that differs from the final lyrics. The Music Division of the massive Library of Congress in Washington, DC, is a place where performers, composers, scholars and the general public make discoveries of the musical kind.
Case in point: in a series of letters written in 1957 to his wife Felicia, while she was visiting her family in Santiago, Chile, Leonard Bernstein faithfully chronicles the progress of West Side Story during the final weeks of rehearsal through the show’s out-of-town opening in Washington, D.C. The letters reveal Bernstein’s changing emotions about the show from frustration and agony to his final state of euphoria. In addition to comments about West Side Story, Bernstein writes about signing his contract as conductor with the New York Philharmonic, his upcoming thirty-ninth birthday, and how much he misses Felicia and their children, Jamie and Alexander. Read the letters here.
The Special Collections of the Music Division are truly fascinating and constitute a resource for musical scholarship that is unmatched anywhere in the world. These unique bodies of materials are extraordinarily vast and diverse, yet very much interrelated. They include some of the greatest treasures of the Music Division and the Library of Congress.
Tune in on Sunday, December 2nd, 3 to 5 pm as Leonard Bernstein conducts his own music on this week's New York Philharmonic broadcast, from the ensemble's vast recorded archive. It's Jewish-themed music in honor of the upcoming Hanukkah holiday that begins on December 8th.
BERNSTEIN: Chichester Psalms (World-premiere performance in 1965)
It's all all-French program on this week's New York Philharmonic broadcast - performances drawn from the Philharmonic's vast recorded archive. Music by Massenet that includes an historic performance by the Philharmonic conducted by Josef Stransky (who became the orchestra's music director in 1911, following the death of Gustav Mahler), and appearances by Luciano Pavarotti and mezzo-soprano Nancy Maultsby. Also on the program, works by Clause Debussy that include the Image pour Orchestra, and Le Martyre de Saint Sebastian.
Those funky, menacing chords can only belong to one piece of music: West Side Story, the Leonard Bernstein Broadway musical that updated the Romeo and Juliet story into the world of gang warfare to the streets of post-war New York City. The concert suite from the musical has often been played by The Philadelphia Orchestra, though this week it's performing the music in a different incarnation - as an accompaniment to the 1961 Oscar-winning film. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Patrick Stearns reports that the enterprise isn’t nearly as simple as it looks.
I can't think of anything I loved more than talking to Leonard Bernstein. Or, more accurately, listening to him talk — about music or any topic under the sun. I remember a long discourse we had about one of my favorite books, Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, and Bernstein's summarizing statement: "Well, of course, every author spends his whole life writing the same book."