"Bernstein for Orchestra"
MUSIC: clip from Bernstein Wrong Note Rag performed by Proteus 7 [Dorian xCD-90278, track 24] [under the following]
Welcome to Compact Discoveries. I’m your
guide, Fred Flaxman, and for the next hour we’re going to explore
Leonard Bernstein’s best and brightest music for orchestra.
We’ll start with his Overture to Candide and we’ll include the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and excerpts from Fancy Free, On the Town, Mass, On the Waterfront and Chichester Psalms.
MUSIC: fades out
Leonard Bernstein was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1918. He died
in 1990. He was multi-talented: an excellent conductor, pianist,
lecturer, author, teacher, and composer. As a composer he could and did
write everything from great tunes for Broadway musicals...
MUSIC: opening bars from “Tonight” from West Side Story, Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler (RCA Victor 09026-68699-2, track 7)
...to listener-challenging modern symphonies...
MUSIC: a few bars from opening Bernstein Symphony No. 1 (“Jeremiah”), New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Judd [Naxos 8.559100, track 1]
Although of Jewish heritage, Bernstein could and did write a Mass...
MUSIC: clip from Bernstein: Mass performed by the Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by John Williams [Philips 416 360-2, track 2]
...as well as music inspired by his Jewish roots...
MUSIC: clip from Bernstein: Hashkiveinu with the BBC Singers [Naxos Milken Archive of American Jewish Music 8.559407, track 19]
His televised Young People’s Concerts from Carnegie Hall with the
New York Philharmonic Orchestra introduced a new generation to
Bernstein’s own work as a composer, particularly his scores for such Broadway musicals as West Side Story and On the Town, helped forge a new bridge between classical and popular music.
I’ll tell you more about the man who was affectionately known as
“Lenny” later. But let’s get to some of his wonderful
music right now, starting with the Overture to Candide.
Candide was orignally conceived as a musical — almost an
operetta, really — with a book by Lilian Hellman and lyrics by
Richard Wilbur. It opened on Broadway in December, 1956, but closed
after only 73 performances.
Then Bernstein began revising the work -- a process that would last
almost three decades. The final version was the near-operatic
production he conducted and recorded in London not long before his
The Overture was first heard in concert with the New York
Philharmonic in January 1957. It is a well orchestrated and put
together collection of tunes from the show, as you’ll hear now in
this recording by the late Florida Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by
James Judd on a Naxos recording.
MUSIC: Bernstin: Candide Overture, Florida Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by James Judd (Naxos 8.559099, track 1) [4:09]
The Florida Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by James Judd in this recording of the Overture to Candide by Leonard Bernstein.
Bernstein took piano lessons as a boy. Later he studied with Walter
Piston and others at Harvard University. After that, at the Curtis
Institute of Music in Philadelphia, he took piano; conducting with the
famous conductor, Fritz Reiner; and orchestration with the well-known
composer, Randall Thompson. In 1940 he was a student of another famous
conductor, Serge Koussevitsky, at the Boston Symphony Orchestra's newly
created summer institute at Tanglewood. Bernstein later became
Koussevitzky's conducting assistant.
Bernstein was appointed to his first permanent conducting post in 1943,
as assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic. On November 14,
1943, when conductor Bruno Walter became ill just before a nationally
broadcast concert from Carnegie Hall, Bernstein substituted for him on
a few hours notice. Bernstein received rave reviews, and soon
orchestras all over the world sought him out as a guest conductor.
I’ll tell you more about Lenny later. But I want to get back to his orchestral music now and the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.
For this purpose, thanks to a Naxos recording, I’m going to
magically resurrect the now defunct Florida Philharmonic Orchestra with
its then conductor, James Judd.
MUSIC: Bernstein: Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, Florida Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by James Judd (Naxos 8.559099, track 2) [22:37]
Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. The Florida Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by James Judd on a Naxos compact disc.
In 1945 Bernstein was appointed music director of the New York City
Symphony Orchestra, a post he held until 1947. When Serge Koussevitzky
died in 1951, Bernstein was asked to head the orchestral and conducting
departments at Tanglewood. He taught there for many years. He was also
visiting music professor and head of the Creative Arts Festivals at
Brandeis University in the early 1950s.
Bernstein became music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1958.
From then until 1969 he led more concerts with the orchestra than any
previous conductor. More than half of Bernstein's four-hundred-plus
recordings were made with the New York Philharmonic.
Immediately after World War II, in 1946, Bernstein conducted in London
and at the International Music Festival in Prague. In 1947 he conducted
in Tel Aviv, beginning a relationship with Israel that lasted until his
death. In 1953 Bernstein was the first American to conduct opera at the
Teatro alla Scala in Milan. The star was Maria Callas.
Bernstein was a leading advocate of American composers, particularly
Aaron Copland. The two remained close friends for life. Bernstein
programmed and recorded nearly all of Copland’s orchestral works.
He used Copland’s music in several televised Young People's
Concerts, and gave the premiere of Copland's Connotations. That piece was commissioned for the opening of the Philharmonic Hall at the Lincoln Center in New York in 1962.
While Bernstein conducted the standard repertoire, he may be best
remembered for his performances and recordings which reintroduced the
then neglected symphonies of Gustav Mahler.
You are listening to “Bernstein for Orchestra” on Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman
[optional one-minute break not included in total timing]
Bernstein collaborated with choreographer Jerome Robbins on three major ballets, Fancy Free in 1944, Facsimile, two years later, and Dybbuk, in 1975.
Here’s “Danzon” from Fancy Free as performed by the Boston Pops Orchestra under Arthur Fiedler.
MUSIC: Bernstein: “Danzon” from Fancy Free, Boston Pops, Arthur Fiedler [RCA Victor 09026-68699-2, track 11]
“Danzon” from Fancy Free by Leonard Bernstein. Arthur Fiedler led the Boston Pops Orchestra.
In 1954 Bernstein composed the score for the award-winning movie On the Waterfront.
The score starts off with fighting on the docks, as I recall. The music
reflects this violence. But later on there is a soft, romantic theme
which is my favorite part of this music, and that’s what
I’ll play for you now.
MUSIC: Bernstein: excerpt from On the Waterfront, Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, Marin Alsop [Naxos 8.559177, track 1]
An excerpt from Leonard Bernstein’s filmscore to On the Waterfront. Marin Alsop conducted the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and Orchestra in this Naxos release.
Bernstein’s first contribution to the Broadway stage was the music for On the Town
in 1944. Here’s “Times Square 1944” from that
musical. Once again we hear Marin Alsop conducting the Bournemouth
MUSIC: Bernstein: “Times Square 1944” from On the Town, Bournemouth Symphony, Marin Alsop [Naxos 8.559177, track 7]
Leonard Bernstein’s “Times Square 1944” from On the Town. The Bournemouth Symphony was conducted by Marin Alsop.
In 1953 Bernstein wrote the music for another Manhattan-based musical comedy: Wonderful Town.
One of the songs for that production is called “Wrong Note
Rag.” It was one of several for that show that was designed to
give the feeling of vintage New York. In this case, the song is
supposed to be a vaudeville showpiece that dates from the 1910s. Here
it is performed in a delightful arrangement by Rodney S. Miller for the
group Proteus 7. This is from their Bernstein Tribute on a Dorian
MUSIC: Bernstein: Wrong Note Rag performed by Proteus 7 [Dorian xCD-90278, track 24]
Wrong Note Rag by Leonard Bernstein. This piece was originally included in the musical Wonderful Town. The arrangement you just heard was by Proteus 7 on a Dorian CD.
Bernstein wrote a musically, religiously and linguistically eclectic Mass
for the opening of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in
Washington, D.C. , in 1970. Bernstein and Kennedy were a year apart at
Harvard. They became friends during Kennedy’s short presidency.
One “hit” song emerged from Bernstein’s Mass:
It’s called simply “A Simple Song.” Here is an
orchestral version with John Williams conducting the Boston Pops on a
MUSIC: Bernstein; “A Simple Song” from Mass, John Williams conducts the Boston Pops [Philips 416-360-2, track 2] [4:10]
“A Simple Song” from Mass by Leonard Bernstein. John Williams conducted the Boston Pops.
We’ll conclude our tribute to the orchestral music of Leonard
Bernstein with an excerpt from another one of his choral works.
It’s called Chichester Psalms
because it was commissioned by the dean of Chichester cathedral in
Sussex County, England. Strangely, the first performance was not by the
choir for which it was commissioned, but by the New York Philharmonic
in a slightly altered version with a mixed, adult choir. The all-male
version was first performed later the same month in England. This
excerpt features the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and Orchestra
conducted by Marin Alsop.
MUSIC: Bernstein: excerpt from Chichester Psalms performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and Orchestra [Naxos 8.559177, track 2] [by itself at first, then under the following]
You have been listening to the orchestral music of Leonard Bernstein on Compact Discoveries.
My name is Fred Flaxman. Technical assistance for this program was
provided by Timothée Anglade. More information on this series is
available at CompactDiscoveries.com. Compact Discoveries is a
registered trademark and production of Compact Discoveries, Inc. This
program is made possible in part by the members of WXEL-FM, West Palm
MUSIC: up and fade out at 57:55
WFMT Announcer: This program is distributed by the WFMT Radio Network. [5 seconds]
Program Ends at 58:00
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