Transcript:

Speaker I must have said this before, that having fun was his main occupation.

Speaker He loved having fun and.

Speaker It was you could make a case that was the most important thing in the world, having fun men laughing over a good joke, it meant having a joke at somebody else's expense, actually, which he wasn't above ridicule and or it could mean a great meal.

Speaker Traveling, doing something crazy, like going to the movies at 2:00 in the morning or something, you know, ah, it was fun. He wanted to have fun and music.

Speaker It was no accident that he called his book The Joy Music, because that's how he saw music is something to give you joy, even if it was serious and tragic.

Speaker And still there was an element of joy always there. And that's. That's the essence of Lenny, was humor and fun.

Speaker You never would have guessed it now from some approximations. I got to say personally, and I'm sure Shirley would agree that that's 90 percent of the time the three of us were together but was having fun was just a lot of laughs.

Speaker One long series of laughs about nothing. I mean, things that would bore the pants off anybody else and in fact, often did people who were in the same room with us in private, private life.

Speaker We had private language. We had private world to the exclusion of everybody else. And sometimes in utter rudeness, we would perform our little world and our private language in front of other people who wouldn't understand it at all and and were indeed quite put off and bored by it.

Speaker But that never stopped us. We just plowed ahead.

Speaker We went through in our famous trip to Europe with Leni 1950. We tore through country after country with Leni, was esteemed as the great chef to cast this Tanguay of America, young as he was, and being entertained and lauded everywhere by all sorts of nobility and famous people.

Speaker And all we could think about was getting back to the hotel room afterwards and playing canasta. That was a riotous canasta, just crazy long games into all night long of canasta and jokes and and that nobody quite understood it. They thought we were crazy Americans and far too loud and we were.

Speaker That's the truth of the matter.

Speaker Oh, that actually needs to be something I wanted to ask about family. I gather everything I've read and it's obvious was incredibly important for any.

Speaker And it was no accident, I call my book about my very family matters. You see the double meaning there.

Speaker That was that was all part of it. Yes.

Speaker Um, but I think Lenny, when he was a teenager, somebody quoted as saying. He said, I want to grow up, get married and have kids, but before that I want to try everything in life. I'm still going to try everything in life or something like that. So. I guess what I'm trying to find out for you or any comment on is. How did he how what kind of impact did your own family, your own family environment? Shirley has talked about a lot of interviews being sometimes rather tense, not maybe quite as ideal. Someone might have wanted and that that had a big influence on Lenny's desire to create a family, to have a certain way truth.

Speaker Well, there were really two families and one and while my mother and father had their problems and and there was still this great bond and love among the five of us and the various dogs we always had who were considered part of the family.

Speaker Indeed, when my father would we had several dogs named Nippy or my father would call me sometimes he'd go in descending order of importance because a Lenny surely Nippy, and then he'd get to me, say, Birdie.

Speaker But dogs were very important and of all Bernstine ourselves. But there was a very tightly knit bond and family despite my parents marital problems.

Speaker And then there was a whole other family. And that other family was what we call the Bernie in family based on our on a kind of imaginary country and an imaginary language that many made up when he was 10 years old, long before I was born.

Speaker And in that family that progressed through the years, it became Bernie and became a living language, actually, and had many outside influences. Its origins, the. The family there was Lenny as the paterfamilias, and Shirley was the sort of mother and I who came into it all as a really a baby, a toddler, I was the kid. And it more or less stayed that way right up to Lenny's last day on Earth. I mean, he was always he was very much a father, sort to Shirley and me. And and Shirley was a kind of mother to me. And I was the kid, even though I was and am not a kid any longer. And so we had our little world, our little family, and then my parents had their family. And it was a collision of two worlds. Interestingly enough, that happened in many, many different kinds of American first generation versus immigrant parents set ups. In my book on my family, I went into this in some detail. And some of the the the the letters, the fan letters I got of the book and the when the pieces were in The New Yorker before it was a book were from people who weren't Jewish, who were Italians, Polish, Irish, wonderful letters saying I went through the exact same thing with my parents. You know, we made fun of them.

Speaker We ridicule them. They were of the old world. We were the new world. We were American kids. And yet there was this love and closeness. But we did have this strange, sometimes guilt producing ridicule of the old generation.

Speaker Let me talk to you about his desire to create to get married and create a family. Oh, sure he was. Yeah. What do you say?

Speaker Well, there were several close calls, I would say, before Felicia. And indeed, Felicia, whom he ultimately married, of course, was was a close call herself. They were engaged once and then broke it off. And I was sort of somewhat instrumental in their planning, finally going through with it and getting married and was in it was, I got to say at once, the one of the more frightening days of his life and one of the happiest days at the same time because he'd done it. And and the results were terrific. I mean, it was a great marriage, believe it or not. It was a wonderful marriage. And Lenny often said his not only was Felicia's his wife, but she was his best friend ever. And they had three wonderful kids and now grandchildren. And it was pretty good.

Speaker And Felicia was.

Speaker A terrific conductor, his wife. In that she was beautiful, dressed magnificently and would appear at openings and looking ravishing, and she pretty much put aside most of her rather well known career as an actress in favor of Lenny. This is a conductor's wife, which is what a conductor's wife has to do, I guess.

Speaker Did you all get together as a family in an extended family, your family, weddings, family, Sam and Jenny and all?

Speaker Oh, yeah. The only problem there was dinner.

Speaker I'm looking for a lead into the dinner.

Speaker Yes, we were we met often and well around usually around the dinner table for various family events, birthdays and so on. Anniversaries and always Passover Seder. That was always a big thing, Christmas, Thanksgiving and whatnot. We all got together. And of course, in the summers, Lenny would say, rent a house in Martha's Vineyard. We'd all turn up there. The only friction, really, you know, all this was between my parents and Felicia.

Speaker I can honestly say to this day, I don't know why that was, but there was just some sort of chemistry on mainly from Felicia towards them that just didn't work. It was acid and alkaline. And I don't know why they they liked each other a lot. They even loved each other. Some have been some of Felicia's letters to them, which I've seen, are very touching and very tender. But for some reason, when she was with them in person, face to face, I don't know why. It's just some sort of reaction. But apart from that and the attention that inevitably caused and how it disturbed Lenny, we're in a way almost of a situation comedy, television situation, comedy, family. I mean, it was just in some ways too good to be true.

Speaker Where did your these gatherings, Sator and Thanksgiving and so forth, they were the family. It included an extended family.

Speaker Yeah, we had an extended family always that always came. There were friends and they varied from old friends like Betty and Adolph and Phyllis and Adolf's first other earlier wife, Ellen and McCleery and and anybody who happened to be around and plus all those Chilean relatives of Felicia's who would turn up and oh, always Mike Menlyn. Mike Menlyn was like I mean, I'm sure over the years a lot of people thought he was a family member who was a long lost cousin or something.

Speaker And there was always a lot of people, a lot of food, a lot of warmth. And and sometimes it wasn't terribly planned out. It just sort of happened. Just people called up and said, I'm in town. Yeah, come on over, you know, and they were suddenly squeezed in other tables. But was it was fun. And of course, Lenny was presided over at all. All eyes were on me. All eyes were always ready. I know this sounds crazy. It sounds like I'm making him into a God like creature. But in some ways he was you know, I I have gone with Lenny to parties on many occasions when we when I was a kid and later on when my wife and he and Felicia, we'd all go to the same party together and it'd be a quiet, sort of somewhat dull party. And and Lenny would walk in the room and I swear, this is my imagination. The group would light up and people would start smiling. And before you know it, somebody got him to the piano and he was playing something and somebody was singing and somebody else was doing something. And if Adolph was there, he was doing a buck and wing and then old review his act with Betty. And suddenly the the party became memorable. It was the damnedest thing I had. It was almost magical I've ever known. I'm just curious.

Speaker I've ever known anybody else like that. Yes, I did. It's funny. I just thought, who else do I know who had that same effect on parties? And it was somebody I don't know, you know, Goddard Lieberson, who was the head of Columbia Records for many years and was married to Vera Tsarina fajitas, and she was known to us. And Goddard Lieberson had that same quality. I mean, you could be sitting in a room full of people and everyone's sort of dull and tense. It would come in with a big smile and say something witty. And suddenly the party was made. He he and Lenny were both hosts. The hostesses dreams come true. They could make any party. They were good friends and very good friends, very close for many years.

Speaker Yeah, he must be an extraordinary man. Oh, yeah.

Speaker And one of the wittiest aerial with.

Speaker Can you just and I don't want a long story here, but because I was going to talk to Shirley about this because she was around and I know that you were born much later.

Speaker But if you can, just because you've heard the story a million times, just summarize that we've got the story that the piano. But after Lenny got the piano, it seems that you just went you just think that he can teachers could barely keep up with the advances.

Speaker Yeah. To get another teacher and then a better teacher to better shape. And he had a phenomenal musical ability.

Speaker That was evident from the moment that piano.

Speaker Did you just say that that was Lenny? I believe it was around the age of 10 when the famous now legendary Aunt Clara's piano, tiny upright, beat up upright, was left because Aunt Clara was moving to New York and she had to put it somewhere and was left in an apartment that my parents rented in Roxbury, I believe Massachusetts.

Speaker This is before my father got rich and bought all houses and he had this piano is there. And Lenny, just like any curious kid, might have done the age of 10 when.

Speaker And by the way, at the age of 10, Mozart had already written several pieces and performed all over Europe. So you can see Lenny was no child prodigy. He just went up to the piano and started tinkling on the keys, just as you and and as he once told me, he said it was absolute love at first sight, the sound that came out. And you can imagine what the sound was just absolutely infatuated and transformative in a he had often said, I knew then and there that's somehow or other I was going to be connected with this, the sound. And he it was the opposite of all Parent-Child piano lessons, stories where he had to lean on his own father, especially to give piano lessons.

Speaker It wasn't the other way around and inside of, oh, a few months. He was already playing better than his first teacher, a woman of neighbor who gave piano lessons named Frieda Karp. And if I if memory serves and she had he was playing rings around her and she had taught him, as he often said, he gave her credit for having taught him her, having taught him the elements of reading music. And so once you could read music, then there was no stopping him, then he can get anything, sheet music and so on, play all sorts of things. Then he got.

Speaker He went up the ladder and his next stop was a woman who taught at the New England Conservatory of Music who had some torturous method of piano playing, where the third knuckle on your hands couldn't show you had to go like a claw like method. And he stuck with her for about a year until it was so painful to play the piano in that way that he almost gave up the whole thing.

Speaker He said once then, but he was getting so good that somebody suggested he get a really great piano teacher and he applied on his own to Heinrich Gebhart, who was the premier teacher, the maestro of Piano and Boston. And Gephart was impressed by him, but he said, you're still too unaccomplished for my classes. However, he recommended him to an assistant of his named Alan Coates, who became the firm selling coats, and she gave Lenny lessons. And very often double the length of the lessons for nothing, you know, for an extra hour for free, and I was very impressed. He learned a great deal and finally she was so impressed by him and that he had sort of outstripped her. Teaching abilities that Gephardt took them on, and so he had the true master of Boston piano teaching and.

Speaker It was onward and upward from there, any truth to any story about weddings even before the pair she on the windowsill pianistic, I recall something and I read that news to tap out the rhythm and rhythms.

Speaker Yeah, but I don't think he actually connected pressing keys and making a sound until Aunt Clarence kind of came on the scene when he was about 10. And coincidentally and interestingly, that's when Vibranium was born, too. So these two I know that sounds a little strange, but this wildly inventive thing happened with the invention of a country and a language happened coincidentally with his this love affair with music. Both of them lasted. Right up to the very end, his very last day on Earth.

Speaker Interestingly enough, I already said that I'm quoting this exactly, but either in a letter or an interview or something like that, before the piano, he had been kind of a sickly child and, you know, and he got the piano and he got well and he got strong and he, you know, shot up in height and he became an athlete.

Speaker And that's a life change.

Speaker I think it's a little any exaggeration there. But it was it certainly was created a great change in his life.

Speaker It certainly stimulated him on all counts.

Speaker I'm going to jump right out of that now.

Speaker And I'm wondering if you know how much you know about after the day you and you've talked about the debut already, wonderfully edgy about what happened with his relationship with still after that, which then led up to his leaving.

Speaker Well, Roginsky, Lenny was in no way his station in life was and he wasn't in any sense able to call the shots on somebody as famous as Stravinsky. And when I say call the shots, I'm not that it's not just a metaphor. Stravinsky, Brzezinski carried around a pistol.

Speaker I don't know what he was so afraid of, but he did carry around a pistol, I think it was he had a permit for it, but Radzinsky took a real dislike to him after that. After the debut, I think he he felt that Lenny had stolen his thunder, although Lenny was certainly wasn't Lenny doing other than having a successful debut due to an accidental occurrence.

Speaker And Radzinsky, as I understand it, I know this second third hand only really took a hard on him, wouldn't speak to him, ignored him.

Speaker And of course, when he when he noticed he carried around a pistol in his back pocket, he thought he might have decided to keep his distance. What prompted his decision to leave, to resign?

Speaker Well, he became famous. It was a Hollywood. Story, I mean, it was literally famous overnight, suddenly orchestras that wouldn't have dreamt in a million years of having a young American conductor, even a guest appearance, you know, just wasn't done. We're on the phone all the time. Then he had a manager and I think the Judson office was his and. Suddenly, the offers were pouring in, so there was no real reason to hang around the Philharmonic as a flunky because the assistant conductor ship of the Philharmonic in those days, anyway, was who you were really, unless something happened like Vulture getting sick and unable to conduct. You are a flunky. You're a gofer.

Speaker Shortly after he left, though, he took over the New York City's.

Speaker Yeah, well, that was offered yeah, there was this New York City symphony, that's Tarkowski.

Speaker Led, and it was always hanging on by a thread financially, it was supposed to have been subsidized by the city, but it really wasn't and they hardly gave it enough money to survive. The musicians were ill paid, if at all, and we barely hung on. I think the one great thing the city gave it was a rental free hall at the city center, which is New York City owned. And I think they got rent free there. That was about it pretty much. And.

Speaker They gave it to Leny thinking I guess he could inject some life into it, which indeed he did, and some of the more memorable performances people talk about to this day were many in the City Symphony, New York City Symphony. Mark Blitzstein Airborne was premier. There were many other things he did very experimental stuff. It's time. And he did that until finally even that had to give up the ghost.

Speaker It just couldn't make it while we're there. Can you just talk a little bit about his friendship, the good stuff?

Speaker Oh, we went back to Harvard. When Lenny did a production, he mounted a production almost all on his own while a student at Harvard of this opera that he heard about that had been done in New York by Orson Welles and John Houseman, called The Cradle Will Rock. And Lenny being very left ish back then, as everybody was in the late 30s, thought it was marvelous. I guess he had gotten a copy of a score or something. He knew something about it. He hadn't seen it in New York, as far as I know. And he got the rights to mount a student production in Boston. And Mark Blitzstein came down to see it and. I guess it wasn't being done that often he would, but he was interested enough to come down to Cambridge to see it are up to Cambridge, I guess, from New York and. They became instant friends and in fact, Mark said, I believe this is an accurate quote. He said that he thought Lenny had done a better job on it than Mark himself had done and.

Speaker So they became good friends. And what's interesting about their relationship was they they each influenced the other a great deal. Even though Mark was considerably older, Lenny's music is full of references and reminiscent phrases of Marx and and vice versa. They had a real kind of reciprocal relationship.

Speaker And I sense I mean, let's go back to this place, polar influences and help Lenny Melville in this ways, right?

Speaker Yeah. Lenny had a perhaps a unique way of melding opposing forces, musical forces, musical ideas into something totally original. For instance, mentioning my mentioning Copland and Blitzstein as great influences on them, they they could be viewed as very different styles in American music. But Lenny gave and got a great deal from both of them and somehow merged it into something that was uniquely Lenny's music. He did the same with Mahler and Stravinsky and Hindemith and Beethoven. He just took bits and pieces and ideas. And it came out again, uniquely, Lenny, in conducting his two great teachers of conducting the Koussevitzky and Fritz Reiner. That couldn't be more opposite REINER the diligent Germanic precision. Conduct of so precise in every gesture, Koussevitzky, who did it all with emotion and love and the gesture and expression, and when you think about it, that's what Lenny was as a conductor of a strange hybrid of these two forces. It was a wonderful ability to be able to do that.

Speaker What kind of influence did.

Speaker Did Demitri in the truck as a conductor?

Speaker Nobody talked about that, but I know with good reason, I don't think he had a great influence on him. I think Metropolis, if the what influence he had on was not to be afraid of trying a modern piece, you know, sort of even if it meant trouble with the audiences or reviewers or music critics, take a chance, you know, try something new. And Metropolis often did that to his detriment. I mean, he caught hell for it very often. And but I think that.

Speaker Influence money somewhat, but the actual conducting style, I would say no, not knowing is the truth unless which was the one who encouraged me to become a conductor.

Speaker Yes, he, uh, I believe there were really almost at the same point in Lenny's later college years where he met Copeland, he met Blitzstein, he met Copeland and he met Metropolis, almost all of them, three by accident. They just happened to appear at Harvard when he was there. And they were all three of them were very taken with this young, obviously talented fellow. And Copeland said, I think you ought to become a composer. This isn't a direct quote, but this is what he said. In effect, I think you have a career ahead of you as a composer, Metropolis said. I think you have a career ahead of you as a conductor. Both these things were Lenny was and thought he would be was a pianist. But so both these other ideas were wild. I mean, it was it was almost as if somebody said, you have a career as an astronaut. You know, it was just out of his mind, even his wildest imagination. But he took both the suggestions to heart and became a composer and a conductor. So, yes, Metropolis had an enormous influence in that sense. Yeah. And he also helped him get into Curtis Institute of Music so he could study conducting there.

Speaker Somebody yesterday said that that was actually had come to light. That was really Copeland to did that really well.

Speaker That's I thought he got several glowing letters of recommendation in the end.

Speaker It was it was a Copeland. Well, that may well be, I don't know, kind of recently come to light.

Speaker Guy's got no credit for that. But it was really was Copeland who got him into Curtis. But anyway, I don't think I need help from anybody, tell you the truth.

Speaker But when when did they ever talk to you?

Speaker I'm trying to get a lead in here because there was a brief time that Lenny and Dimitri Metropolis for co conductors and then right before Lenny, but a year or so wasn't the sole conductor. And they didn't they do that Latin American tour together? Yeah. Could you talk a little bit about just them as co conductors? How about might have felt about that and lead into this tour? Because I believe.

Speaker Now, before we do that, for the New York City Symphony, Lenny, that his first European tour, I believe it's the first time you've been in Europe.

Speaker Yeah, Prague. Prague, right. Could you.

Speaker I wasn't along on that. Surely was. And my father peculiarly my way. Yeah. You can help fill it in. Yeah. It was I believe he went to Prague under the auspices of the State Department. And there was some sort of international festival there, and Russia sent Shostakovich and the State Department sent money, and I guess they were to represent the what that their respective countries had to offer and. Lenny was a big success, however, it was an extraordinarily difficult time, it was really right after the war and things were pretty tough. I remember Lenny saying he had to pack his own toilet paper. The government told him, make sure you take your own toilet paper with you, things like that. And he met Shostakovich there. I remember also that Lenny said the most moving moment of all came when he conducted or either a concert or played at a at a displaced persons camp.

Speaker And where that was exactly, I'm not sure it might have been in Germany or Austria. And he said it was just something unbelievable to go in there and see these survivors of the Holocaust. To Monu, some years have gone by since the end of the war, but there were still terrible shape. But their reaction to him was moved him greatly, and I'm sure he never forgot it, that this young American Jewish kid could do what he was doing to them. Must have seemed absolutely miraculous, like some of you can never dream of him after what they had been through.

Speaker It was that this film, as actually saw that footage, photographs, and he what it was, is he he played with a small orchestra.

Speaker I think it was 13 or 15 survivors. And they were the last survivors in the orchestra that had been no DP camp at this place. But they were still there and they were the last survivors of an orchestra that had been in 75 love orchestra, 13 or 15 of them left.

Speaker And let me play Rhapsody, but also did I think also did a little something else. I can't remember just that's one thing.

Speaker And it was around the time he went to Israel for the first time around that time, he went to Israel for the first time when again, it is all second and third hand. But he was under the British still. It was under the British Raj and.

Speaker That had a huge impression on him that, again, lasted right up to his last days and he conducted what was still called the Palestine Symphony and under fire, literally under fire.

Speaker He told me that Beersheba, they were shooting while the concert was going on.

Speaker And every so he had wild stories of the sun. Suddenly the clarinettist would have to leave or something and go off to the front. It just said, I can't go to the concert tonight and pick up a rifle. And I called to the front is a sort of musical experience you don't ordinarily have and.

Speaker It was his first trip to Europe. Yeah, that was an amazing life, you know this, but there is footage of money from that time in Prague, really from the State Department or what?

Speaker I don't know where some of the earliest footage of Romney conducting that project, which was he went to Israel then then he came back, then went back again.

Speaker And that's where she to. But it was all fairly close together anyway.

Speaker So now we're back to you and you can set up that they were called conductors for a while and they went on they did the Latin American tour together.

Speaker Well, looking at it, as I imagine Demitri Metropolis looked at it, it must have been very rough because here they were co conductors. Lenny was very much his student kind of protege, and he knew damn well that Lenny was going to succeed him, that he was going to be out. I mean, it was the psychological psychosocial level. It must have been hell for the poor man.

Speaker And here is this kid who's going to take over from you, you know, in effect. So it couldn't have been I don't know of any great friction that happened, but it couldn't have been terribly pleasant for poor Metropolis. And that Latin American trip sure as hell wasn't was an extraordinary for Lenny picked up the pieces after Nixon, I guess, to me.

Speaker Yeah. And can you tell me more about that?

Speaker Oh, yes. Well, he he came back glowing, you know, because he said he'd been warned by people in the State Department who were along with another one of those auspices, government auspices thing. And they said Nixon's car got stones and it was bashed and such and such a place and Caracas or something. And be very careful when you go there, you know, and they really hate Americans. And so and then he would come arrive at the airport with the orchestra of the Philharmonic and there would be this great caravan of cars waiting with a motorcycle escort and would be taken through cheering throngs of people screaming and cheering, you know, and carrying on. And he couldn't get a ticket to the concerts for a lot of money. And, you know, suddenly the two views of America, Nixon and Lenny and and I believe they finally met. They came face to face at some point they actually met. And Nixon, with his phony joviality, came up and clapped Lennie in the backseat. Hey, Len, how are you? And Lenny just sort of shook his hand, said, fine.

Speaker That was that it was it was shortly after that tour that he became the sole conductor. Yeah. Did you say that?

Speaker Yeah. And then the result of that as Metropolis? Undoubtedly, yes. Was that Lenny would become the conductor of the Philharmonic.

Speaker What can you tell me about Hollywood and that particular reference to On the Waterfront?

Speaker Yeah, I was around then, so I can tell you a little.

Speaker Uh, uh, yes. I was at the Columbia Graduate School, and so I was around when he was doing the especially the. In New York not. In Hollywood, he was doing the working with the Moviola and all that stuff, and it was a great experience for him. He really loved it. And I spent some time with him in the lab there where he was matching the soundtrack to the movie stuff.

Speaker And I just got through the Moviola glimpses of this movie that was still in its raw form. And boy, I could tell even with just staring into a Moviola that this was going to be one hell of a movie. I mean, it was great.

Speaker I remember the scene in the taxicab, for instance, saying that on and oh, Brando doing all these has his bits and then he matching up just the right music for it and doing all kinds of musical tricks. He did. He turned things upside down. He would do a theme and then just turn it upside down and have a whole lot of the same kind of. These are sort of almost private jokes he made and did. And he said, you see, that's the same thing, but it's just backward and upside down or something. And the experience. Oh, he loved it. It was a great thing. I think he was disappointed when he in a kind of jokey way when he didn't win the Academy Award, he was nominated, but he didn't very well. What the hell? And. Who wanted high and mighty? Yes, Dimitri Tiomkin wanted for the high and mighty, which had, I believe, one little theme.

Speaker Well, I think there was even some speculation that there might have been something of an anti leftist bias.

Speaker I actually I think somebody told Lenny that the reason he didn't do it, he didn't politic and take ads in Variety saying, you know, how wonderful he was. And as a result, that was the accepted politicking that goes on. And he since he had no interest in doing that, I guess he came in second or something. Why do you think he. But I promise you, the disappointment didn't last more than about 20 minutes.

Speaker Let me let me love you.

Speaker Yes, we all did. I mean, we never missed the chance to go to a movie. And I'm talking about when we were all little kids and sharing the big in our summer house.

Speaker And Sharon Mass, the big event of any weekend was to go to Foxboro or Canton or Stoughton. Those are the three nearby towns that had movie theaters. And it was an event you went boy, it was. And some of them, the one the one in Foxborough was an outdoor movie theater and the whole outdoor movie. And that was a great treat to go to. And it was a rapturous event. No matter what the movie was, didn't matter. And, you know, and matter of fact, in those days, you got several movies. You got the B movie double feature and the shorts, selected shorts and so on.

Speaker So right up to that, as long as I can remember, when we were all together, we would go to the movies.

Speaker It was an event more and more important in some ways, then go into the theater to go to a movie. And Lenny never failed, by the way, to cry to Joan Crawford movie. He'd just see the name Joan Crawford on the bloody marquee and he'd start crying. It was embarrassing, you know.

Speaker Why do you think he didn't want to do more Lindeberg?

Speaker You know, uh, I don't think it wasn't that he didn't want to do more. It just didn't work out just. I think he got offered some enormous movie to do music for by Sam Spiegel or somebody like that who wanted him to do something, paid him a lot of money, but it just didn't work out.

Speaker I don't know why.

Speaker And we talk about that and other things just occurred there to tell you about all the things Lenny was offered in an insane amount of money for, so do the the more famous he became, he would get these wild offers. Just come once.

Speaker Got an offer from some organization that was natural gas called the Blue Flame. I don't know. I remember this, but the this organization, the Blue Flame, which was promoting natural gas, wanted him to write something called the Blue Flame Symphony or something like that. And the I think they they wanted they were offering a million dollars or something, you know, for you to write this. And we sat around, I met Felicia and Lenny and I sat around one night saying, let's let's we go. I'll do it. We'll write the Blue Flame Symphony, get a million bucks. What the hell? We can do it in about an afternoon, right. Just throw together some stuff. And it was a great joke because he never did it. But, you know, the things he was offered were unbelievable.

Speaker I'm sure a lot of movie scores came out of that, too, you know what I mean? Offers for movie scores came out in the same way.

Speaker You know, probably somebody said this a million bucks do a score for this movie, but he did.

Speaker Well, there were other things that were greater priorities.

Speaker Oh, yeah. And also his schedule was rather crowded, as we say that we love movies.

Speaker And he could have been had a career. But there are other things that were a big priority for him.

Speaker I really think he he loved, even adored movies.

Speaker But there are other things that were even had a bigger priority for him, I think, in the candy of Israel and life. Why you talk a little bit about its lifelong importance to him.

Speaker And I know you weren't there in 1967, but he must have communicated to you the joy he felt about being there. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Could you relay that?

Speaker Well, he was it was like a dream come true for him suddenly to see East Jerusalem and be able to walk in it, you know, and the the joy he felt, the pride he felt, as did everybody just about who wasn't an Arab in this incredible victory, a six day victory. Uh, and it was extraordinary. A movie was made of it by Mike Menlyn, in fact, and. For Lenny to play there, you know, with it in front of the conquering troops, as it were, on land that had been Jordanian just before, was an extraordinary moment. And to go to the the Wailing Wall, the Western Wall was also very moving for him because he was a very religious person. He really was a very religious person. He told me he filled me full of stories about the place he had from the time he had first gone there 20 years before. And I had never been particularly interested. But I he's so stimulated my interest that I went to cover the next war as a reporter for The New Yorker and and went back again and actually wrote several other pieces about Israel and the Sinai and the whole Middle East. But so I in a way, I was stimulated to explore that whole area by Lenny. Yeah.

Speaker What did what did it mean to him? I mean, beyond the answer to the obvious thing?

Speaker Well, he was a religious person, not in the sense of going to a temple, you know, regularly or praying regularly or any of the rigamarole.

Speaker But he had a deeply set religious feeling expressed in many ways, but mainly in through Judaism, because that's, after all, where he grew up with.

Speaker And he it meant a great deal to him. Christianity also meant something to him, too, as you can tell by the mass that he wrote and his conducting of the Mrs. Solemnis and Box B Minor Mass and Verdi's Requiem and all that, it was very he was very emotionally involved in those things, too. But it was the Jewish theme that really got to him and. In that sense, he he was very much like his father.

Speaker For whom?

Speaker The deep rooted religion was all important, all in, all pervasive. And although my father was perhaps more rigorous in his observance of Jewish law and tradition than many, much more, so it's the it's the deep feeling for it that was important.

Speaker Alas, that never hit me for jumping quite ahead here, but getting to the end here.

Speaker Can you talk a little bit about the separation from Felicia and what kind of impact?

Speaker That had a lot of enormous. It was a terribly difficult time for both of them, and I'm not sure exactly.

Speaker What started it or what ignited it or what, but I I think they finally decided to have what was called then and was indeed a trial separation. And they tried to have the separation for a while and it didn't work. And they came back together. And that's the long and the short of it. They were both miserable. I saw Lenny a few times during that period because I was separated myself from my first wife.

Speaker And so we were more or less in the same boat and we commiserated with each other and he was miserable. And just and Felicia was miserable, and as it turned out, she was also ill and.

Speaker That the knowledge of that made Leanne all the more guilty and I was just sort of snowballing thing, just got vicious circle. And finally, the most sensible and best thing for both of them was to come back together again, which they did.

Speaker How did you feel about the way he that publicly announced the separation?

Speaker I don't remember. How how was he publicly announced? I don't remember a press conference.

Speaker Really?

Speaker Yeah, I guess I put that right into my head.

Speaker I think that was part of I mean, I was having my own troubles back at Felicia. I mean, that was a public.

Speaker And yeah, it kind of evoked the sort of contemporary terms that follow my bliss argument I have to follow. Oh, was it that kind of thing? So what how did it divide people? And were people angry with Lenny?

Speaker Oh yeah. I think a lot of people, people were very torn about this. Always happens in cases. Certainly happen in cases of my divorce from my first wife. But it was people choose upsides. And a lot of the people were equally friendly with Lenny and Felicia. And so it was tough for somebody like Mandy Wager, I guess. And Mike Nichols. Mike Menlyn, they were. Equally friendly, both parties. So it was rough and me, you know, Wadsworth and Lenny had two deaths of their family in common, and I think that's how they have to come together at some point. Lenny played for Shirley and me and I think his kids, maybe Jamie, just a piano run through of the whole thing. And I think all of us just sat there and said, well, I don't know what we said. It's very interesting. Yeah. And he was kind of crushed by that because we weren't ecstatic, but I couldn't fake it. I really wasn't ecstatic about it. And when he did, he and Wadsworth, I guess, decided to put trouble in Tahiti in its entirety into the opera. And I saw it under those circumstances. It was terrific. What was terrific was terrible anxiety because troubled days for a little operetta and the whole theater came to life and it suddenly had meaning.

Speaker Then we went back to this turgid, dreary story again.

Speaker I think dramaturgical the what was wrong with it was you didn't really care a rat's ass about anybody in that they were cartoon characters and you just didn't care about them. They were.

Speaker You got to care. I don't care whether it's comedy or tragedy or what. You got to care about the characters. And if you don't care about them, you don't care whether they live or die or all their complaining and screaming and so on is just for not.

Speaker It's useless, it's ruined, at least in trouble and tragedy in that segment.

Speaker They may they may have been cartoon characters, but they were funny and there were great numbers and there was spirit involved, so you cared in that sense, but in a quiet place, at least speaking for myself, I couldn't have cared less about them. There was a kind of cathartic thing, perhaps, to write it, something therapeutic, I can understand that, but that may be fine for the creators. It's not necessarily very fine for the audience that you feel that Lenny felt.

Speaker I mean, I don't know if you were ever able to talk about this. It's the one working that didn't write very much about. So I think he says a lot of what he's trying to say in it.

Speaker But I mean, it was like he was seeking some kind of resolution of something there. And not just Felicia's not just malicious, not just coming to terms with that. Did he ever talk about.

Speaker No, he never I think he was put off by my lack of enthusiasm for the original run through that. He just wasn't the way I wasn't a.

Speaker It does seem if you kind of look at what happened after from 600 on, which was not a success and quiet place was not a success.

Speaker Well, it was a quiet place with at least a critical success. In fact, I think Andrew Porter, The New Yorker, called it a great work of some sort, but I couldn't agree.

Speaker It didn't last very long. Yes, well, it was not on repertoire.

Speaker I think it was considered it was a kind of a considered a kind of mixed. It wasn't a flop like 60 100. But it does seem that Lenny, from that point on, just is looking at how he spent his time, that he actually wrote a great music for major pieces that he wrote about the department along with Jubilee Games, opening prayer and Mr. Bravo. All right. Bardwell's concentrated period writing. And he was getting seriously back to teaching the master classes, and that seemed to be very important part of his life. Do you feel that that Lenny began to sense in some way that time might be running out?

Speaker Oh, he started sensing at least 20 years before he used to say in his darkest moments when he did have some dark moments, even with me and Charlie Brown, he would say, you know, I don't know why I've lived as long as I have. And he couldn't understand it. He said, you know, the way I smoke. The crazy schedules I have, you know, are different when he's on a conducting tour of a different city every day, you know, I should have died years ago, you know, so in that sense, I think he. Was appreciative of having gone as long as he had, you know, and as full time running out, I think he felt that way maybe since 1970 or so.

Speaker How do you deal with aging?

Speaker He hated it, hated it. But he had this wonderful thing of being eternally young.

Speaker He just he wouldn't give in to it. You know, he was eternally young, the kid. And some sort of the same way, so surely he he hated the idea, though, of slowing down. But what could you do, you know, it was this point where you simply have to but he did give it is all right up to the end.

Speaker I mean, that trip to Japan, that ill advised trip to Japan and to Czechoslovakia in 1990, not just a few months before his death, really. And.

Speaker And even doing that last concert at Tanglewood was crazy. I mean, nobody in his right mind should have. Let them do it, and he himself shouldn't have done it. It was just crazy he was in no shape to even walk out on stage, let alone conduct a whole concert, especially in a cold November like rain in Tanglewood.

Speaker But he did. Why do you think why again, tenacity. Doggedness, you know, by God, I'm going to do it. I'm not giving in.

Speaker He right up to the last time I saw him, he was still in there. He knew what was coming, but he was still in there.

Speaker I've got to ask you about the Berlin Wall concert. Oh, it seems symbolically somehow that I mean, Lenny have been it almost seems in the last years of this journey for peace and this peace was his mantra.

Speaker Does seem a great deal of his energy and time spent promoting peace among mankind. We know this is a very important thing to him. The Berlin Wall concert must have been terribly symbolic for him in some ways. What his life, what I think he thought a lot of work was about.

Speaker Yeah, but several of Lenny's work was in one way or another. Older piece. Yes. And and indeed, I brought this up in the eulogy I delivered at his funeral. And I said the he he he was absolutely determined that the world he couldn't understand and is in a kind of naive way. He couldn't understand why the world didn't all just become one big happy family. I mean, it seems so simple and easy to him that everybody can just be in one family. And he believed in that. There was such good in everybody and a desire for peace and harmony in everybody. Despite this, I said all evidence to the contrary. And he then went on to say, I think he was in love with love. He just wanted the whole world to love itself to death, as it were. And he couldn't understand why it didn't work out that way. But by God, he was going to keep trying to make it so. And the Berlin Wall concert, his the fierce feeling he had for freedom and the rights of all people was a very sincere part of it. Now, what's interesting about Lenny is you'd think somebody like that is a kind of wimp to show sort of somebody a goody goody who just always looks and sees, you know, sort of twinkle eyed view of the world of how everybody's joining hands. Lenny could be so humorously. I must mean about different races and people and loved racial jokes, loved ethnic humor.

Speaker This is his favorite, but it was humor again. And and within that humor, even though sometimes got him into trouble with people who look at him strangely and, you know, mimicking accents and colors and, you know, jokes about.

Speaker Well, I won't go into them, but it was it was part of it was part of the whole ethos of fight for him, that you can have this wildly I idealized view of how life should be and at the same time make jokes about it. Interesting that there are too many people like that. As I often told them, it's a good thing you never ran for office because by God you wouldn't get 10 votes. You know, under these circumstances.

Speaker I don't know. Did you? We still haven't found verification of this. But in a very early memo that Karen did a very long time ago, she said that John Kennedy was once quoted as saying the only person he would want to run against for president was Leonard Bernstein.

Speaker Well, it's it's yeah, that's John Kennedy's Boston Irish charm talking. I think that said, that might well have. Yeah, he might have said it. And but Kennedy, you know, it was an awfully charming guy and he may well have said that about a lot of people, too. Yeah, but they were good friends, though, you know, even though, you know, they didn't they were one class apart at Harvard and they didn't know each other. Lenny, I often ask anybody who said, didn't you ever take a course with them or pass them in the quadrangle or something? And he said, no, he never, never ran into them. They're strange, isn't it?

Speaker It's a friendship. It meant a lot to him. Yeah.

Speaker Yeah, he was. They were very close and in fact, Felicia and Lenny were invited into the private quarters of the White House just to like you, come over to somebody's house for dinner. And it was very impressive. I got to say, both Lenny and Felicia, who had been in some pretty privileged places, they were really odd when they came back from there, just full of stories I'm rather proud of.

Speaker Yeah, sure.

Speaker You talked about that they had intended to ask you this, but it's something that I'm curious about how you express it, that, you know, there was this very idealistic dreamer about a better world when she wrote about promoting and did everything but also make these jokes.

Speaker That's a contradiction. What other kinds of contradictions would you call?

Speaker Almost everything that he did was contradictory. She loved.

Speaker Old me pre classical music even, and he loved jazz, he loved, though there was almost not a thing you can name where he didn't love both sides of something, we talked about the the two different kinds of conducting styles, Reiner and Koussevitzky.

Speaker He had a wonderful way of merging opposing forces together and making them and making you understand them. He used to say a lot. Then I took it to heart and I tried to live up to this over the years that he said he saw himself as a small C Catholic, the real, as he said, the real definition of a liberal, which is open to all forces, all ideas, and you pick and choose, put together, meld, discard some, keep others. And you work that way. Something absolutely doctrinaire.

Speaker Just put them off. He just couldn't go take it, and indeed, it would be a source of ridicule. He would make fun of it.

Speaker He was once toasted in some way and lauded by some Maharishi, some of the other who sent him all kinds of stuff, and he said, where does this come from? Why am I why am I the object of this reverence by this Eastern religious guy? And it became a joke. I mean, he couldn't take it seriously. And just where somebody else I can imagine would take it very seriously and indeed fall under the sway of it.

Speaker Can I ask you one last question before we go to this eulogy, James?

Speaker Is there any any recollections you have of the 17th birthday celebration, if not in terms of the programs we have with and how he felt about it?

Speaker Well, he. He was a.

Speaker A little worried, I think, first of all, he had to sit there and do nothing, which already put him off a bit. He sat in that box staring at all this and had to show great appreciation for everything. It did go on a bit long and he was. A little nervous and edgy because he couldn't respond other than to clap and throw kisses and that kind of thing, he was a little nervous about my mother who was sitting there. But as it turned out, she couldn't have been in better shape. She just loved it all.

Speaker Uh.

Speaker He was, I guess, overall, he was honored, it was a great honor and he was also very conscious of the cameras being on him all the time.

Speaker And and and it was most of it was very pleasant and loving and full of good cheer and.

Speaker Yeah, I think he would have liked to see edited a bit, but what are you going to do?

Speaker You wrote a poem in which he indicated that he was he'd had it with being celebrated.

Speaker Well, it was actually a very bitter pill.

Speaker Again, he was a man of opposition contradictions. He he could get very bored with being over, celebrated and honored. And then if you took away some of the celebrations ideas, he got very nervous. I'm losing it.

Speaker You know, it's it's a little like, well, it's a lot like actually how he felt about conducting versus composing. The two main chores of his life and of course, teaching, but he do, he'd say, oh, I got to get a year off here and just do my next opera, my next lesson, my next that I want to be wonderful and I'll just do it. And then he would he'd worked very hard and he was diligent enough. He worked hard. And then you could begin to see him around after a few months, getting very edgy and nervous. And what was the problem? Well, he sort of missed getting in front of an orchestra and walking out there and having a houseful of people who had a hall full of people cheer and scream. And and that wonderful, extraordinary power conductor gets simply by lifting up his hand and going like that.

Speaker And over 100 musicians come in and he missed that.

Speaker He needed that. And then he'd do that for a long time and a rigorous schedule. And then he long for the solitary life of the composer, just all alone in a room with a piano and.

Speaker He said it was a constant battle there again, right up to the end. Well, at the end, of course, he wasn't he had given up pretty much the idea of ever conducting again and hoped he would be able to compose.

Speaker Yeah, I think I get that feeling, but, you know, I may be being idealistic, I take a trait I tend to share with Lanni, very idealistic myself, very. But I think there was another reason he kept going back to conducting. And it wasn't just the aphrodisiac audience and the side, which I think. But I think that he genuinely needed to have this music in his life.

Speaker I mean, I think it was fueled by Beethoven and Mahler.

Speaker Oh, he was. Yeah, that was part of it. Knowing it's also the knowledge that he could conduct Mahler second say, and bring the house down. That was, you know, hey, I can still do this, Bo, you know, and look at them all out there screaming and cheering and carrying on.

Speaker It was a. Food and drink to him for that, and he needed it.

Speaker And just about that part, I mean, Copeland was a conductor as well, and he wasn't a conductor anyway, like Lenny, but he didn't do that because he didn't need this music in his life. He was very he was very confined to his musical image.

Speaker Now, I think Copeland also did it to make some money because he pure and simple.

Speaker And you couldn't really live very well just being a composer, even the dean of American composers, being the dean of American composers. And, you know, that's why Aaron, I think, wrote a lot of movie music because he made more money by doing a movie score than he making three symphonies, you know, was he needed to make some money.

Speaker I believe he was the only American to this day. Is the only serious American composer who ever made a decent living just out of composing, could have lived just by his composing.

Speaker Is it true? Yeah, I think that he accepted some score, you no American, but, uh, all the others had to do other jobs. You know, Virgil Thompson was a music critic and. All right. And there were teachers and so on. Copeland could have if he could have lived comfortably, I guess, just by virtue of his compositions.

Burton Bernstein
Interview Date:
1997-01-01
Runtime:
1:14:41
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-q814m9237c, cpb-aacip-504-5h7br8n00b, cpb-aacip-504-251fj29t64, cpb-aacip-504-xg9f47hp2h, cpb-aacip-504-5d8nc5sv2f, cpb-aacip-504-xg9f47hp44, cpb-aacip-504-vq2s46hx9g, cpb-aacip-504-pv6b27qh4n, cpb-aacip-504-r49g44jg2r
MLA CITATIONS:
"Burton Bernstein, Leonard Bernstein: Reaching for the Note." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 01 Jan. 1997, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1063
APA CITATIONS:
(1997, January 01). Burton Bernstein, Leonard Bernstein: Reaching for the Note. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1063
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Burton Bernstein, Leonard Bernstein: Reaching for the Note." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). January 01, 1997. Accessed June 28, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1063

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