Musical Interlude

Lenny Bernstein
Lenny Bernstein

I love this story about Artur Rodzinski, music director of the New York Philharmonic (1943 – 1947), who “drank only milk from goats he raised himself on a farm in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and who kept a loaded revolver in his back pocket whenever he conducted,” and his protege Leonard Bernstein, then 25 years old, who on Nov. 14, 1943 was called upon to conduct the orchestra in place of the legendary and suddenly-taken-ill Bruno Walter, who had been Gustav Mahler’s assistant in Vienna.

Bernstein was at a party the night before, given in honour of his friend, the Russian-born singer Jenny Tourel — who had just performed a recital for a cycle of Bernstein’s children’s songs called I Hate Music, to raves from Virgil Thomson — and already was anxious about the possibility that he would have to “guide the NY Phil through the menacing windmills of Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote.” At the party, “there was food, drink, Bernstein played boogie woogie improvisations on the piano; but the possibilities, the dangers, Richard Strauss, Robert Schumann, Miklos Rozsa and all of America listening made Bernstein discipline himself for what Sunday might demand of him. Normally he was the last to leave a party. This night he decided to be more prudent. He left between 4:30 and dawn.”

“No one bothered to tell Bernstein that the first call from the orchestra had been to Artur Rodzinski himself. He was only four hours away in Stockbridge, and though there’d been heavy snows, he could have made it to New York in time. Rodzinski’s immediate reply was, ‘Call Bernstein. That’s why we hired him.’ In 1926, Rodzinski’s first big opportunity in New York had been when he filled in for an indisposed Leopold Stokowski.”

Read on!


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