One of the greatest musical figures of the 20th century
The centenary of Leonard Bernstein—Part 2
25 August 2018
This is the second and concluding part of a series on the life and career of Leonard Bernstein, born 100 years ago August 25. The first part can be accessed here.
The great success of West Side Story in 1957 was soon followed by Leonard Bernstein’s inaugural appearance on the podium with the New York Philharmonic as its “music-director-elect.” For the next 11 years, his life was largely consumed with all the duties associated with leading one of the world’s major orchestras, including programming, performance, auditions and a host of administrative and publicity tasks.
Bernstein quickly placed his stamp on the Philharmonic. In the first few years he programmed series of concerts on American music of the 20th century, the contemporary avant-garde, and above all the music of his illustrious predecessor as conductor of the Philharmonic, Gustav Mahler, who had led the orchestra exactly 50 years earlier, from 1909 to 1911.
Mahler’s works, including song cycles and his nine symphonies (plus an uncompleted tenth), are now performed regularly, but before these emotional and lengthy works were championed by Bernstein they had appeared relatively rarely on concert programs. A Mahler symphony was on every Philharmonic program between December 31, 1959 and February 21, 1960. Not everyone was pleased. Well-known critics Irving Kolodin and Howard Taubman were openly dismissive when Bernstein led Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony with the New York City Symphony in 1947.
The early Bernstein years at the Philharmonic also saw much touring, including a famous trip to the Soviet Union in 1959. The conductor also programmed…