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Leonard Bernstein

January 22, 2013 Biographical, On Conducting

On Leonard Bernstein and Candide:

Leonard Bernstein, the renowned American conductor and composer, had a tremendous influence on my life because he was, in everything he did, a teacher and a mentor. It didn’t matter if he was conducting, composing, playing the piano or singing with his croaky voice—he was always conveying to others that music is a vehicle for expressing passion and emotion, and a life without music is a life devoid of color and interest. I had the unique opportunity to study and perform with him during the last ten years of his life.

I first met Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood, summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1980 and then, in 1982, had the honor of participating in a conducting master class at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute (for which he was Artistic Director). However, my direct connection with Leonard Bernstein and Candide began in September, 1987, when John Green (composer of Body and Soul) asked me to conduct the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra for a fundraising event at the Beverly Hills Hotel for the Southern California Harvard-Radcliffe Alumni Association, at which Bernstein was to be the honoree. It was an extraordinary opportunity (and rather intimidating) for me, at age 23, to lead a full evening of Bernstein’s music with the composer sitting at the head table! But everything turned out well for, after a program that featured, among other things, the Candide Overture and Glitter and Be Gay (also from Candide, with soprano Donna Robin), Bernstein leapt up onto the stage, gave me a huge embrace, thanked the orchestra and then guided me through an impromptu winner’s lap around the ballroom. Two weeks later, I received a phone call from Harry Kraut (Bernstein’s long-time manager) inviting me to participate in the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, ultimately resulting in my being selected as one of four conductors from around the world to share the maestro’s podium in concerts held in Germany, London and Moscow.

Through the years that followed, I did have the chance to visit with Bernstein in Los Angeles and New York and, on each occasion, I found it fascinating that he preferred not to speak about classical music but, rather, about food, the theatre, spirituality and…the Beatles. In 1995, five years after his passing at the much-too-early age of 72 (October 14, 1990), Gordon Davidson, Artistic Director for the Center Theater Group at the Los Angeles Music Center, engaged me to be the musical director for a full production of Candide. The 61-performance run at the Ahmanson Theatre remains one of the highlights of my musical life and, to this day, I cherish my moments with Leonard Bernstein and his magnificent music that speaks across generations, cultures and time.

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