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75 Years Ago Today: Bernstein’s Famed Philharmonic Debut

75 years ago today, Leonard Bernstein made his famed New York Philharmonic debut at Carnegie Hall at age 25 famously filling in with a few hours’ notice and without rehearsal for an ailing Bruno Walter. The concert was broadcast nationally, and The New York Times ran a front-page story the next day, calling his performance “a good American success story.” Have a listen to the radio announcement from that famed afternoon.

Leonard Bernstein
 

In 1989, Bernstein recalled his debut:

“When it came to the time — that very day — all I can remember is standing there in the wings shaking and being so scared. There was no rehearsal. I had just come from seeing Bruno Walter, who very sweetly and very quickly — wrapped up in blankets because he had the flu — went over the score of Don Quixote with me. He showed me a few tricky spots where he cut off here but didn’t cut off there; here you give it an extra upbeat, and so on.... The time seemed to hang heavy till 3:00 p.m., even though I had to go over some of the tricky spots in Don Quixote with the cello and viola soloists and the concertmaster. The thing that was obsessing me, possessing me, was the opening of the Schumann overture, which is very tricky because it starts with a rest — the downbeat is a rest. If they don't come in together, the whole concert is sunk. I mean, I can’t once go ‘bop, bop, bop,’ and make sure they can do it. So, this was like a nightmare. I had to go on and do, untried, this thing of such difficulty. You know, I’ve heard other people come to grief in that opening bar. Then I finally went and talked with the guys and they said, ‘Good luck.’ [Philharmonic manager] Bruno Zirato said, ‘Hey, Lenny. Good luck, baby.’ Oh, he was very fatherly and gave me big bear hugs. And that was about it.”

Leonard Bernstein Leonard Bernstein
Photos: New York Philharmonic Archives

PHOTOS: Leonard Bernstein’s Legacy of Innovation at the N.Y. Philharmonic

As we celebrate our former Music Director on his 100th birthday, here is a look back at his transformative tenure. Its echoes are heard and felt to this day at the New York Philharmonic.

Happy 100th, Lenny! A Look Back at the New York Philharmonic’s Bernstein Centennial Celebration

Today is our beloved Laureate Conductor Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday — and the end of our yearlong celebration of Lenny’s centennial year. Thank you to all who performed in and attended these events; we have loved every minute. Most of all, thank you, Lenny.

VIDEO: Bernstein @ 100 in Vail: “Wrong Note Rag” from Wonderful Town

The New York Philharmonic, conducted by Bramwell Tovey, saluted the great composer-conductor and former Philharmonic Music Director Leonard Bernstein during his centennial year with a program celebrating his great Broadway hits. Here, Annaleigh Ashford and Laura Osnes (with an assist by Santino Fontana) delight the crowd with “Wrong Note Rag” from his show Wonderful Town. The concert, on July 20, 2018, was part of the Orchestra’s 16th annual summer residency at Bravo! Vail.

VIDEO: Bernstein @ 100 in Shanghai: Candide Overture

In an appropriate nod to the maestro who made the New York Philharmonic a truly global orchestra, the Orchestra, led by Bramwell Tovey, brings the Bernstein centennial celebrations to Shanghai with a concert saluting the Laureate Conductor, including through his ebullient Candide Overture. The concert, on July 6, 2018, was part of the Shanghai Orchestra Academy and Residency Partnership.

(Video: Chris Lee)

Watch New Year’s Eve: Bernstein on Broadway on Live From Lincoln Center

If you won’t be with us for New Year’s Eve: Bernstein on Broadway, our sold-out tribute to former Music Director Leonard Bernstein, you’re in luck: it will be telecast on Live From Lincoln Center at 9:00 PM on December 31 on PBS! Check your local listings to confirm the time in your area. [Watch the archived video here or above.]

Toast the New Year and Lenny’s 100th with West Side Story’s star-crossed lovers, On the Town’s fun-loving sailors, and Wonderful Town’s bright-eyed New Yorkers as portrayed by Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford, Hamilton’s Christopher Jackson, Cinderella’s Laura Osnes, and Next to Normal’s Aaron Tveit. Our old friend Bramwell Tovey conducts, Lonny Price provides staging and continuity, and Westminster Festival Chorus rounds out the stellar line-up.

The concert continues the Philharmonic’s season-long celebrations of its Laureate Conductor’s 100th birthday year. On February 22–24, Assistant Conductor Joshua Gersen will lead Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, which the Philharmonic premiered in 1961. And “Bernstein’s Mahler Marathon: The Sony Recordings,” 13 hours of his performances of his Philharmonic predecessor’s complete symphonies on Sunday, will take place at Lincoln Center’s David Rubenstein Atrium on February 25.

PHOTOS: Leonard Bernstein’s Legacy of Innovation at the N.Y. Philharmonic

Bernstein’s Philharmonic: A Centennial Festival kicked off last night, with the first performances of Bernstein’s Serenade (After Plato’s Symposium) with Joshua Bell, his Jeremiah Symphony, and the U.S. Premiere of Joey Roukens’s Boundless (Homage to L.B.)

As we celebrate our former Music Director in his 100th birthday year, here is a look back at his transformative tenure. Its echoes are heard and felt to this day at the New York Philharmonic.

Something’s Coming: Bernstein’s Philharmonic: A Centennial Festival

Calling all Bernstein lovers! The Philharmonic is celebrating Lenny’s 100th birthday with Bernstein’s Philharmonic: A Centennial Festival (October 25–November 14) plus other events throughout the season — concerts, education activities, a Mahler marathon, and more — befitting the renowned composer, conductor, pianist, and educator who served as our Music Director (1958–69) and then Laureate Conductor.

Festival highlights include:
Bernstein-successor Alan Gilbert and Bernstein-protégé Leonard Slatkin leading Bernstein’s complete symphonies, with Jeremy Irons as speaker in the Kaddish Symphony, plus music by Gershwin and more (details here for the first program, second program, and third program)
An all-Bernstein Young People’s Concert — the series that Bernstein famously brought to national attention through the TV broadcasts 
Harvard and University of Michigan students studying Bernstein as an educator and conductor, and interviewing Philharmonic audience members who attended Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts as children
Leonard Bernstein: The Philharmonic’s First American Voice, an archival exhibit featuring original material from the Philharmonic Archives
The free Insights at the Atrium event “Inside the Orchestra: Working with Bernstein,” featuring Philharmonic musicians past and present reflecting on Bernstein as conductor and colleague

Later in the season, the tributes include performances plus the free event “Bernstein’s Mahler Marathon: The Sony Recordings,” 13 hours of Bernstein’s performances of his Philharmonic predecessor’s complete symphonies, and collaborations with the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

To quote the man himself: “It’s been a family association in many ways, and even though faces change, the entity, the totality of the New York Philharmonic remains solid, and I remain bound to it by mysterious cords which tie me to the orchestra as long as I live. In some funny, spiritual sense, they will always be my orchestra, no matter who else’s orchestra they may be.”

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