Bernstein Memory Bank


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Were you at Carnegie Hall for the amazing Nov. 14, 1943 concert when Bernstein replaced Bruno Walter at the podium? Were you in the original cast of West Side Story?

We’re collecting memories of Leonard Bernstein, the conductor, composer, New Yorker, activist, and we’ll be publishing those memories on the website. Do you have a memory you’d like to share? E-mail us.


I was 3 or 4 years old, and living on Long Island, when my father, a prominent chemist and frustrated musician, decided to take me “into the City” to the Young People’s Concerts by Leonard Bernstein.  I remember being in awe of the orchestra, wanting to be one of them, and hanging on every word.  Mr. Bernstein had a wonderful way of speaking to each of us – in a way I remember as being quite individual.  At some point, he had individual instruments play things that represented characters in the story the music was telling.  He invited us to close our eyes and visualize what the music was doing.  I remember him talking about the music asking questions and then answering those questions, how the tempo affected the story, how much work went into doing real music.  It all remains among my fondest memories – both of music and my dad, who insisted on discussing everything on the way home, to be sure I understood.

I was told in later years that we went to 6 concerts, and apparently they have all blended into one in my mind.  I did become a musician – played in orchestras, sang in choirs, performed on stage.  Moved to Chicago, where my children grew up listening to those great classical and modern pieces, invited to close their own eyes and “see” the story.  We conducted orchestras while waiting in traffic.  I credit that love and appreciation of music to Leonard Bernstein and those concerts.

As a young girl born in Little Rock, Arkansas, I was introduced to Maestro Bernstein by his magnificent Young People’s Concerts at Carnegie Hall. I depended on him to educate me and expose me to the wonderful world of music. My family knew that this pre-teen girl was going to insist on controlling the one television when the Concerts were on tv. Years later, in the 90’s, I enjoyed a tour of Carnegie Hall and when the guide allowed me to step to the edge of the stage while standing in the audience aisle, I spontaneously burst into tears of joy when I was able to place my hands on the edge of the stage that had brought me so much joy as a young person. Last, my keychain is a souvenir brass ticket of Carnegie’s 100th birthday and I had planned to attend. Unfortunately, Mr. Bernstein left us before the day came. I cherish this keychain and think of Mr. Bernstein with great love and respect for caring about educating young children who didn’t live in New York City and were not able to travel there easily.

My mother, Ouida Mintz, grew up with Lenny, took piano lessons from the same teacher, and played with orchestra before he did. My mother’s name was Ouida, pronounced wee-da, and her first conductor was Alexander Theide, pronounced tee-da. So Lenny, as a jealous teenager, went around saying “Wee-da’s gonna play with Tee-da, Wee-da’s gonna play with Tee-da.” Years later when we saw him back stage after conducting the Philharmonic he greeted us with the same phrase!

When they were teenagers they applied to a contest with a local newspaper to name recorded music at a big competition. They worked together, each winning their section. Lenny’s prize was to conduct the Boston Pops at Tanglewood, his first conducting gig. The rest is history.

My departed mother told me a story about Leonard Bernstein, when he should conduct a concert at the Waldbühne in Berlin in 1989. An audience of about 22.000 people was waiting for the beginning of the concert, while it was raining without end. Instead of the people you could only saw umbrellas. There were technical problems and suddenly Bernstein came on the stage, the ritualistic cigarette in his mouth, wearing a white jacket and a white scarf and started playing Gershwin-Preludes at the piano. The audience celebrated him.

We went to Tanglewood every summer. In fact we stayed at the same boarding house, owned by The McCarthy Family. Many of the BSO stayed there, and we heard stories of what it was like to be in the orchestra when Leonard Bernstein was conducting.

We specifically went to see Bernstein conduct Beethovan’s ninth symphony. Needless to say he brought the house down. I was clapping and screaming and felt the slightest brush on my arm—I looked down and there was my diamond, which had fallen out of a dinner ring. My then boyfriend picked it up and declared he was going to take it to the jeweler and design an engagement ring,(which he did). We just celebrated our thirtieth anniversary. It was one of our fondest memories of Bernstein.

My mother, Gertrude Meyers, was invited to a party where Leonard Bernstein was in attendance. My mother was thrilled to see him or parts of him because he was always surrounded by many people. Then she heard him say “Excuse me but I see an old dear friend and I have to talk to her.” Suddenly, he jumped and came running toward her.

“Excuse me.” he said. “I had to get away from those people. They were driving me crazy. Do you mind if I sit here? My mother was delighted. She was talking to “Lenny” her hero. My mother said he was easy to talk to and charming.

We went to many of his concerts and I still delight in the memory of my mother’s wonderful experience.

I will never forget the subscription concerts of March 24, 25, 26, and 27th, 1960. My father, Leonard Shure, played the Brahms 1st piano concerto, in d minor, with Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic … the same piano concerto that Glenn Gould had played with maestro Bernstein, I believe before that concert, and became famous, when Leonard Bernstein himself, gave a speech, totally freeing himself from any commitment, musically speaking, from Mr. Gould’s interpretation.

The concert that my father played with Mr. Bernstein was a huge success, so much, that the audience applauded after the 1st movement… It will be something I will never forget … and to top it all, it was my birthday on the 26th … both the orchestra, maestro Bernstein AND my father’s musical direction, reached such similarity, that it was a constant revelation … in ALL aspects …

Leonard Bernstein was a great musician, and we are indeed blessed to, through his recordings, be still in touch with his great musicality …

Bernstein’s music didn’t change my life, but being a member of the Student Orchestra (now called “Fellows”) at Tanglewood during the summer of 1955 was the highlight of my musical experiences. I learned that summer that becoming a pro violinist was unrealistic for me, but the excitement of having Lenny on the podium that summer and playing in such a superb orchestra was a thrilling time. He was a wonderful inspiration.

Years later I produced a summer theatre workshop for teenagers in our community and during the 17 years we put on TWO productions of “West Side Story”.

What a fabulous opportunity for kids to learn the music and “dig” the complex rhythmic structures of songs and dances.

I owe a lot to Mr. Bernstein. Because of West Side Story, in particular the song ”Maria”, I became an avid fan of Broadway. Once I found out that this song came from a Broadway show I starting studying musicals of the past and attended as many musicals as I could. In college I became the president of the Drama Society and after college I got involved in show business. First with the National Musical Theater and later with Flo-Bert, Ltd., the organization that produces the annual celebration of “National Tap Dance Day”. I’ve met the greats in the dance world-Tommy Tune, Charles “Honi” Coles, Donald O’Connor, Ann Miller, Gregory and Maurice Hines, the Nicholas Brothers and others.

Thank you Lenny.

I was 10 years old in the summer of 1945 attending a camp with my older sister in Great Barrington, MA, when one evening as we were already asleep the lights came on in my bunk and some adults were at the entrance talking excitedly. What they were saying I was too sleepy to understand but the next morning my sister said to me: “Did you see who came to visit camp? Leonard Bernstein! It seems that two of our counselors decided to hitchhike that day and were picked up by Lenny who was studying at Tanglewood nearby. They convinced him to come back to our camp in the belief (no doubt well warranted) that no one would believe that they actually had met Lenny.

Lenny and Dad

Lenny and Dad

Years later, my dad was writing music reviews for several German language newspapers and got to know Lenny quite well. On numerous backstage visits, I was always told that I should address Lenny as Maestro which I dutifully did. When my dad died a tragic accidental death in 1984, Lenny was unable to attend the memorial service (at which Sherrill Milnes sang some of my dad’s favorite arias) but sent flowers and a beautiful note. In my eulogy, I thanked Lenny for the flowers and made a special note to mention that my dad always corrected me in the pronunciation of Lenny’s last name—reminding me that it was pronounced Bern-stein and not steen.

We have many pictures of Lenny and my dad but my favorite is this one which is inscribed: “Fir mein Walterschen, LB”. I miss them both very much.

In December 1989, Leonard Bernstein was in London conducting Candide at the Barbican. My friend’s husband sings in the London Symphony Chorus, and he managed to get me a ticket for the concert, which was thrilling enough as far as I was concerned because I’ve always been a huge fan of Bernstein.

The icing on the cake though was to be at the recording of Candide at the Abbey Road studios a few days later. Again, my friend’s husband got me into the studio, and, just before recording started, L.B asked who I was and why I was there. I thought I was going to be asked to leave, but he said as long as I sat quietly I could stay. I literally hardly dared breath for the next couple of hours! Despite having an appalling cold, after the recording session finished L.B. signed autographs and generally had time for everyone. An truly exceptional man, and still greatly missed as far as I’m concerned.

I’ll never forget the exciting, electrifying concert in Central Park on Bicentennial Sunday, July 4, 1976. LB played and conducted one of his favorite pieces, “Rhapsody in Blue” with the NY Philharmonic. My boyfriend and I had gone to a wedding earlier in the day, and between the morning wedding and the evening concert the hostage situation at Entebbe, Uganda had been dramatically resolved by the Israeli Army. I’m sure this added to LB’s magnificent playing and the orchestra’s energy. Somehow we got close enough to the stage to see his enraptured face as he played. That day was one of the musical highlights of my life.

A few years later, I was driving into Lenox MA to go to Tanglewood. I had the experience of seeing LB tearing around a corner in his silver/ gray car. I’m not sure he looked right or left but fortunately no one was in the way. My mother, who was a student at Tanglewood in 1948, remembered hanging on tight when LB drove students to where they were staying. She has never forgotten the thrill (mixed with a little terror) of those rides.

I took my family to see Leonard Bernstein at Jones Beach and it was thrilling. What a great experience, even for my young girls. One of those events you never forget.

What a great opportunity to think about my introduction to the world of live orchestral music. My parents had a subscription to the New York Philharmonic throughout most of my childhood. I would try to stay awake in our suburban home, waiting for my dad to come home, sit at the piano and recall on the keyboard those pieces they had heard. When I was in fifth grade, my father was out of the country on business and my mother invited me to accompany her to Lincoln Center. Dressed in my best clothes and with my ‘opera’ glasses in hand, I watched this incredibly enthusiastic, emotive man named Leonard Bernstein bring music alive in a way I had never seen before. His movements were one moment sweeping, the next moment tiny and precise, his hair was flying, his face was by turns contorted and elated. I swore afterward that I could see the perspiration fly off his face as he turned and swayed and dust explode from under the podium when he jumped. It was magic.

I’m compelled to thank Maestro Bernstein for giving me a lifelong passion for music. I was fortunate enough to attend one of the Young People’s Concerts in the late 1950’s, and well remember Maestro Bernstein’s enormous energy as he addressed his young audience, periodically bounding back to the piano to illustrate a point on the keyboard. I was rivited by every word he said. I was ten years old or less, but Maestro Bernstein’s passion and enthusiasm captured and held my attention from the moment he walked out on Carnegie Hall’s stage until the Concert ended. I still feel the same rush today every time I go to a concert or opera. That was some gift!

Leonard Bernstein didn’t know me from Adam. Quite asymmetrically, I had known him for the better part of my life. Not known him personally, of course, but like for thousands of others who never, or hardly ever, met him, he was my private hero, my ultimate guru, the shaping influence of my musical life. Put on a Brahms Symphony, any recording, and if Bernstein is conducting, I can identify him within the first three bars.

Bernstein entered my life when he was barely thirty, playing and conducting Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It was a feat I had never seen before, nor had thought possible for any one person to accomplish. From then on I followed his concerts wherever I could, read his books, studied his marked scores where available, and contemplated his celebrated Norton Lectures. Luckily, living in Israel, there was no scarcity of his appearances throughout the years with the Israel Philharmonic, of which he was Laureate Conductor from 1947. He came to Israel often, in times of war or peace, and his presence instilled confidence in trying days.

I gained a closer glimpse of Bernstein as a participant at a one-day workshop for young conductors he gave at the Jerusalem Music Center. Two things about him amazed me. The first, after a whole day of intensive work, he continued the class, oblivious of the clock and to everyone’s delight, for a good two hours after it was scheduled to end - so engrossed was he in his teaching. The second was his way of getting the participating chamber orchestra, the Beersheva Sinfonietta, to pay closer attention to what the young conductors were doing. The orchestra, intimidated perhaps by the presence of the great Maestro, tended to play better than was called for by the students’ gestures. Bernstein instructed the orchestra to improvise anything that sprang to mind, provided it reflected his conducting. He gave an upbeat, and the orchestra responded. Bernstein was in turn happy, sad, angry, elated, slow, fast, addressing tutti, leading solos. The result was a breathtaking contemporary piece, a once-in-a-lifetime unwritten Bernstein opus, and a new bond between Bernstein and the Sinfonietta players. Needless to say, from then on the orchestra played exactly in accordance with the young conductors’ indications, mistakes and all, imbuing the workshop with a rare and fascinating effectiveness.

Several years later I was actually introduced to Bernstein, briefly. He was due to arrive in Israel for a series of concerts with the Israel Philharmonic. This coincided with a visit to Israel of a dear family friend, Halina Rodzinski, widow of the famed conductor Artur Rodzinski, who was staying at my house. Halina was keen to say hello to Bernstein, as it was her husband who, as music director of the New York Philharmonic at the time, had instructed his then unknown young assistant Leonard Bernstein to replace the ailing Bruno Walter the next day – an event that became history.

When Bernstein’s plane landed at Ben-Gurion, a signal went out to all IPO members, who had been on alert, to assemble on stage for a rehearsal. That was the way Bernstein worked: no jet-lag for him. When the call reached me, for which I would be eternally grateful to the IPO telephonist, Halina the octagenerian was in my kitchen snipping the hair of two sisters, students at Tel-Aviv University’s Music Academy, who played in my amateur Campus Orchestra, and whose hairstyles Halina had undertaken to improve. Come immediately, the message said, Maestro is on his way. “Let’s take the girls with us,” Halina suggested, and off we raced to the stage of the Frederic Mann Auditorium.

“What are you doing in Israel?” Bernstein cried out in astonishment when he saw Halina, and in front of the tuned and waiting orchestra he exuberantly greeted the elegant doyenne, including her entourage of myself and the two sisters. Bernstein was clearly impressed by the exotic-looking girls, who indeed were a unique blend being half Tunisian and half Yemenite. “If all your orchestra looks like this,” he mused, turning to me, “it doesn’t really matter how they play.” He couldn’t have chosen a more fitting compliment for the thrilled girls.

A few days later at the Philharmonic guest house, where Bernstein was staying, I received another invitation to be introduced to the Maestro. This time it came from my neighbor and acquaintance Enrice Barenboim, Daniel’s father, to whom I had related the incident with Mrs. Rodzinski and the girls. “Look here,” the expansive Barenboim addressed Bernstein, “did you say that if the girls look pretty, it doesn’t matter how they play?”

I don’t think Bernstein was particularly pleased with the question. “No,” he retorted, “I said that…” He paused. “I probably said…” He paused again, “I hope I said…” And finally, “I should have said… that if they played the way they look, it would surely be a first-class orchestra.” Never have I witnessed such a mix of candor, honesty, wit, and humor.

The last time I saw Bernstein was in Salzau, where he conducted a week-long international orchestra workshop as part of the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival. Closely encircled by helpers, camera crews, music students, journalists, and signature seekers, Bernstein moved in and out of the spacious wooden rehearsal shed like a head of state. His sessions, notably of Stravinsky’s monumental Sacre, were unforgettable. Considered undoable by a student orchestra, Bernstein explained, joked, demanded, sang, groaned, and aped “munching dinosaurs” until he achieved an inspired rendition of the piece rarely experienced before or since. Perhaps this was his true and fundamental calling – being an educator. Among the young, the aging Bernstein was young himself. At the end of each session he would leave the elevated stage, to everyone’s momentary horror, by jumping down to ground level, a good six steps below. Miraculously, he remained unharmed.

As the last session ended, Bernstein noticed me in the vast audience of auditors. “What are you doing here?” he yelled at me across the shed. The entire action around him stopped, and all eyes turned to me. Did he remember where he had seen me? There wasn’t much time to formulate an answer. “I bring you regards from half of Israel,” I yelled back. All eyes now turned to him, like at a tennis match. “Only half?” he hollered at me, “what about the other half?” This one was even harder to counter. “The other half,” I screamed back, “didn’t know I was coming here.” For a moment I feared I had been too disrespectful, but Bernstein seemed pleased with our exchange. He laughed, waved a good-natured goodbye in my direction, threw his cape around his shoulders and, followed by his throng of eager admirers, started out of the shed to the waiting limousine.

When I was five years old, my mother took me to see my first Broadway show. It was Peter Pan starring Jean Arthur and Boris Karloff, with music by Leonard Bernstein. That was in 1950, and because of that production I have made theatre my career.

Do you have a memory you’d like to share? E-mail us.


Craig Urquhart, Bernstein’s assistant from 1985–1990, talks about Bernstein’s genius, discipline, and the difficulties he encountered later in life.

© 2008 The Carnegie Hall Corporation.


© 2001–2008 Carnegie Hall Corporation