It sounds like the set-up for a great punch line. Three composers walk into a restaurant: Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Michael Tilson Thomas. The first course is challenging musical trivia. The next course involves clanging spoons and glasses. Michael Tilson Thomas describes a memorable dinner with two other American composers.
Sure, the song 'Maria' from Leonard Bernstein's musical 'West Side Story' is lovely. For composer and conductor Tania Leon, it meant so much more. 'Maria' set in motion her dream of a possible life in America. Leon remembers her mentor, friend, salsa dancer and Spanish-speaker Leonard Bernstein.
When Bright Sheng went to the Tanglewood Summer Music Festival as a young composer, he didn't think his Peking Duck would lead to a meeting with Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein left impressed by the music and thrilled by Sheng's cooking. Those minutes in the kitchen made Sheng "Tanglewood famous," he says, and was the beginning of a long working relationship with Bernstein.
Leonard Bernstein's love of word play and competitive drive was notorious. Whether it was anagrams or mental jotto, Bernstein's former assistant Charlie Harmon says there were few who could beat him. And if you did, his daughter Jamie Bernstein said, you might wish you hadn't.
In 1982, Charlie Harmon was hired to be Leonard Bernstein's assistant. The first meeting did not go exactly smoothly, but for four years, Harmon had a first row seat to the thrilling, jet set, creative and exhausting career and life of Bernstein. Harmon has written a new book about their work together called On the Road and Off the Record with Leonard Bernstein.
In 1989, just a month after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Leonard Bernstein performed a concert in East Germany for the world to see. They played Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, based on Schiller's Ode to Joy poem, but Bernstein changed one important word. Journalist Stephanie Griffith was there, reporting for the Los Angeles Times.
Leonard Bernstein didn't impress just Americans. He impressed the world. Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's Music Director JoAnn Falletta remembers the music lessons and cigarette ashes Bernstein left in her Juilliard School conducting classes.
Those of us who knew Leonard Bernstein through his recordings loved his work. But what did Bernstein's colleagues and fellow composers think about his career? Composer Philip Glass says that, in considering Bernstein's legacy, there is a lot that he did right. But there was one thing he thinks Bernstein could have done differently.