Leonard Bernstein: Three Favors

May 7, 2015

I still remember the day Leonard Bernstein died, just as I remember the feeling of loss the day Miles Davis passed, or the Sunday morning in Mexico City when I heard the news that Herbert von Karajan had died. These musicians were important, not just to me, but to the world, and it's why so many still preface their remarks about Bernstein with: “I can't believe it's been this long.” As I write this, it has been almost a quarter century.

Many words and phrases are commonly used to describe Bernstein: larger than life, passionate, creative, charming, traditionalist, modernist.....all true but not one of them all-encompassing. He was much too complicated for simple sound bites, and that's why I've gathered some thoughts from three musicians whom Bernstein impacted with his desire to help others find their ways. He did this, of course, for many of us through his Young People's Concerts and his Norton Lectures. In the case of David Amram, Maurice Peress, and Carl St. Clair, he gave each a jump start in the music profession, recognition of the talent he saw in each of them.

 

Like David Amram, Maurice Peress was also given a career boost by Leonard Bernstein, beginning in 1961. That was when Peress was appointed assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic. His relationship with Bernstein and Bernstein's music would continue long after his NY Phil apprenticeship ended. In 1971, Bernstein chose Peress to conduct the first performance of Bernstein's controversial Mass.

When Leonard Bernstein died of heart failure on October 14, 1990, he left many projects unrealized. On the other hand, he left a lifetime of work behind, including over 500 recordings and filmed performances, over 200 original compositions, and a legacy which is carried forward by numerous of his students, including Marin Alsop, JoAnn Falletta, John Mauceri, and Carl St. Clair.

Carl St. Clair was witness to the final 6 years of Leonard Bernstein's career and life, first as a student and then assistant to Bernstein at Tanglewood. It was there that Carl witnessed the final work of Leonard Bernstein, the conductor and teacher.