For the 1958-59 season of the New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, the orchestra's new music director, was eager to program as much new American music as he dared. As luck would have it, early in 1958, the 35-year old American composer Ned Rorem had just returned from Europe with a new symphonic score.
"I wrote most of my Third Symphony in France," recalled Rorem. "It's a big piece but not a commission—I was still writing for the love of it in those days… So I showed it to Lenny and he said 'OK, do it, but I wish you would re-orchestrate the slow movement entirely for strings.' I replied 'Sure,' but didn't, because he was always saying things like that, and then he'd forget about it."
The premiere of Ned Rorem's Third Symphony—as written—occurred at Carnegie Hall on today's date in 1959. The thrill of the premiere was tempered by some harsher realities for the composer, however.
Rorem recalls, "I remember coming late to the first rehearsal because in those days I was living off unemployment insurance. I had written music for a Tennessee Williams play that had closed, so technically I was on unemployment, and I had to go down and stand in line to pick up my check. I guess they managed without me because Lenny conducted four wonderful performances."
Music Played in Today's Program
Ned Rorem (b. 1923)Symphony No. 3Utah Symphony; Maurice Abravanel, cond.Vox Box 5092