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There were times when I must have fantasized – you know, one of those days – "Someday, son, this will all be yours," as they say. But I never thought I would have to walk out there [the Carnegie Hall stage] on my own. When it came to the time – that very day – all I can remember is standing there in the wings shaking and being so scared. There was no rehearsal. I had just come from seeing Bruno Walter, who very sweetly and very quickly – wrapped up in blankets because he had the flu – went over the score of Don Quixote with me. He showed me a few tricky spots where he cut off here but didn't cut off there; here you give it an extra upbeat, and so on.
I called Mama and Daddy at the Barbizon to tell them and you [Burton]. And then I just had to hang around. I mean, I was all dressed; when it came to the crunch on that Sunday afternoon, I wore the one good suit that I had, a double-breasted suit. I had until 2:30 p.m. to kill before going to the hall in my sharkskin suit. In that hour or two, I sat in the drugstore [the Carnegie Hall Pharmacy, then located at the street level corner of the building]. I went in for some coffee. The druggist said, "What are you looking so pale about?" and he gave me two little pills, a green and red one. He said, "Look, before you go on, just pop these into your mouth. One will calm you down and the other will give you energy." I put them in my pocket.
The time seemed to hang heavy till 3:00 p.m., even though I had to go over some of the tricky spots in Don Quixote with the cello and viola soloists and the concertmaster. The thing that was obsessing me, possessing me, was the opening of the Schumann overture, which is very tricky because it starts with a rest – the downbeat is a rest. If they don't come in together, the whole concert is sunk. I mean, I can't once go 'bop, bop, bop,' and make sure they can do it. So, this was like a nightmare. I had to go on and do, untried, this thing of such difficulty. You know, I've heard other people come to grief in that opening bar. Then I finally went and talked with the guys and they said, "Good luck." Bruno Zirato said, "Hey, Lenny. Good luck baby." Oh, he was very fatherly and gave me big bear hugs. And that was about it.
As I was about to walk onstage, I remembered the pills. I took them out of my pocket, flung them as far away from me across the backstage as I could and said, "I'm going to do this on my own." I strode out and I don't remember a thing from that moment – I don't even remember intermission – until the sound of people standing and cheering and clapping.
The story of Leonard Bernstein's remarkable concert hall debut with the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York on 14 November, 1943, crops up in many retellings. Yet it seems to have escaped any commercial release until now. The concert was broadcast live from Carnegie Hall by CBS radio, with Bernstein's triumphant stepping in for an ailing Bruno Walter at the very last minute, without rehearsal, making the front page of the following day's New York Times, alongside numerous war reports from around the world.
Bernstein knew Walter was unwell but only after spending the previous evening at a concert did he check over the scores before going to bed. The following morning the call came to say he would be taking the podium. There was no time to assemble the orchestra for any kind of run-through, so Bernstein had to settle for a visit and consultation with a blanket-wrapped Bruno Walter and a short time with the two soloists for Don Quixote, Joseph Schuster (cello) and William Lincer (viola).
As the New York Times reported, the concert was a huge success for the 25-year-old novice conductor, effectively launching his career on the world stage - and what a career that would go on to be.
Here we present the full radio broadcast, less the interval talk. Missing from the broadcast was the encore, but everything else has been preserved, including a very short summary of war news headlines that was included as part of the pay-off at the end of the broadcast.
The recording was made onto acetate discs from an off-air source, thus is of 1943 broadcast quality. I've managed to eliminate almost all the interference from another classical music broadcast which could just about be made out on the original recording (I thought at first it might have been a live Artur Schnabel concert which was being transmitted at the same time but the repertoire didn't match), and have done what I can with the condition of these elderly and somewhat worn discs. A handful of very short patches were required in two of the works to cover very short gaps in the source recording - these five patches have been digitally aged from more recent recordings to make their appearance as seamless as possible.
Some surface noise inevitably remains, and can be heard at different levels throughout the recording, parts of which are excellent considering the source, others less so. Overall this is good AM radio sound, and the listener will soon tune out of its shortcomings and become totally absorbed in this remarkable and truly historic performance.
BERNSTEIN'S NEW YORK DEBUT, 1943
1. Radio Introduction 1 (3:18)
2. SCHUMANN Manfred Overture, Op. 115 (12:07)
RÓZSA Theme, Variations and Finale, Op. 13a
3. Theme (0:31)
4. Variation 1 (1:40)
5. Variation 2 (1:09)
6. Variation 3 (1:08)
7. Variation 4 (2:56)
8. Variation 5 (1:05)
9. Variation 6 (2:28)
10. Variation 7 (1:10)
11. Variation 8 (1:28)
12. Finale (3:55)
13. Radio Introduction 2 (0:41)
R. STRAUSS Don Quixote, Op. 35
14. Introduction (5:48)
15. Theme (1:58)
16. Sancho Panza (2:32)
17. Variation 1 (1:31)
18. Variation 2 (3:41)
19. Variation 3 (3:50)
20. Variation 4 (1:47)
21. Variation 5 (3:44)
22. Variation 6 (1:07)
23.Variation 7 (0:48)
24. Variation 8 (1:33)
25. Variation 9 (1:01)
26. Variation 10 (4:05)
27. Finale (4:50)
Joseph Schuster, cello
William Lincer, viola
28. Radio Outro, News Headlines, Sign off (2:35)
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York
conducted by Leonard Bernstein
XR remastering by Andrew Rose
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Leonard Bernstein
Live CBS broadcast from Carnegie Hall, New York City, Sunday 14 November 1943
Introduced by Bernard Dudley
Total duration: 74:26
Young Aide Leads Philharmonic, Steps In When Bruno Walter Is Ill
A nation-wide radio audience and several thousand persons in Carnegie Hall were treated to a dramatic musical event yesterday afternoon when the 25-year-old assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra Leonard Bernstein, substituted on a few hours’ notice for Bruno Walter, who had become ill, and led the orchestra through its entire program.
Enthusiastic applause greeted the performance of the youthful musician, who went through the ordeal with no signs of strain or nervousness. Artur Rodzinski, the orchestra’s permanent conductor and musical director, who arrived at intermission time after motoring from his home in Stockbridge, Mass., declared the young man had “prodigious talent,” adding that “we wish to give him every opportunity in the future.“
Mr. Bernstein, appointed to his post at the beginning of the current season, was notified of Mr. Walter’s illness in the morning by Bruno Zirato, assistant manager. Mr. Walter, who was said to be suffering from a stomach disorder, was to have been the guest conductor for the afternoon performance, broadcast over the Columbia network.
The young conductor, a native of Lawrence, Mass., and a Harvard graduate, had no opportunity for rehearsal before opening the program with Schumann's Overture to “Manfred.” The program also included Rozsa's “Theme, Variations and Finale”; Strauss’ “Don Quixote” and Wagner’s Prelude to “Die Meistersinger.”
Mr. Bernstein received hearty applause at the end of the Schumann overture, but was recalled four times when he concluded the Rozsa variations. The audience warmed increasingly to his performance during the remainder of the program and. at its end, was wildly demonstrative.
After the performance Mr. Bernstein disclosed that he had been told on Saturday evening that Mr. Walter was ill and that he “might” be called upon to take his place at Sunday's concert. The possibility seemed remote, and the young man went to a song recital. When he got home, however, he decided to look over the scores of the Philharmonic program “just in case.”
“I stayed up until about 4:30 A. M., alternately dozing, sipping coffee and studying the scores," he said. “I fell into a sound sleep about 5:30 A. M. and awakened at 9 A. M. An hour later Mr. Zirato telephoned and said: “You're going to conduct.”
"My first reaction was one of shock. I then became very excited over my unexpected debut and, I may add, not a little frightened. Knowing it would be impossible to assemble the orchestra for a rehearsal on a Sunday, I went over to Mr. Walter’s home and went over the scores with him.
"I found Mr. Walter sitting up but wrapped in blankets and he obligingly showed me just how he did it."
Mr. Bernstein said he was too intent on his work to feel nervous during the performance.
By a happy coincidence, Mr. Bernstein’s father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Bernstein, had come from their home in Sharon, Mass., to visit their son and so they were able to attend the concert. Mr. Bernstein’s 12-year-old brother, Burton, also was with his parents.
Mr. Bernstein attended the Boston Latin School before entering Harvard, where he majored in music, studying composition under Walter Piston and Edward Burlingame Hill and piano with Heinrich Gebhard. He was graduated in 1939. He spent the next two years at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where he worked under Fritz Reiner in conducting and Randall Thompson in orchestration.
Continuing his piano studies under Mme. Isabella Vengerova, he was accepted by Sergei Koussevitzky and trained by him in conducting at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, Mass. He returned as Mr. Koussevitzky’s assistant in the summer of 1942 after spending the winter season in Boston teaching, composing and producing a number of operas for the Institute of Modern Art in that city. It was during this season that his Clarinet Sonata had its first hearing.
Mr. Bernstein has been continuing his composing here for the last year and his First Symphony is to have its première under Mr. Koussevitzky with the Boston Symphony this season.
The New York Times, Monday November 15, 1943