Lenny!

bernstein

Photo:  Summer ’83, Los Angeles, L.A. Philharmonic Institute, UCLA Northridge Lenny with the white shirt, Michael Tilson Thomas in the middle looking over his shoulder and me in the back with the striped shirt being a sponge absorbing it all in!

In the Spring of 1983 (the year after Arthur Delamont passed away), I had just finished my first of three years as director of a rather good high school band in Manitoba. Thinking I might like to be a professional conductor one day, I looked around for a summer conducting school to attend. Remembering one of the lessons I had learned in the Kits Band (learn from the best), I looked for what I felt was the most prestigious school I could find. I remembered from my university days Tanglewood which was the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the University of Michigan which was known for its conducting school but one school caught my eye above the rest or maybe it was the name of the principal conductor and founder of the school that caught my attention, Leonard Bernstein.
The school was called the L.A. Philharmonic Institute and it was held on the Northridge campus of UCLA in Los Angeles. It was a relatively new school in comparison to the others and the conducting fellows were all picked for the summer session but I was able to sign up as an auditor for the summer which is exactly what I did!
Once on campus and settled in, I learned that there would be an institute orchestra in attendence for the duration, made up of some of the finest young musicians from across the USA. For the next eight weeks my days were spent listening to the conducting fellows rehearse the institute orchestra (guided by Michael Tilson Thomas who was the second in charge behind Mr. Bernstein), studying scores and attending evening concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. There was also a roster of guest conductors including Herbert Blomstedt (San Francisco Symphony Orchestra), Erich Leinsdorf (Assistant to Toscanini at one time) and Daniel Lewis (conductor).

It was a week or so before ‘Lenny” (as everyone called him) would arrive and when he did it was quite an occasion. Dressed in cowboy boots, blue jeans and blue jean shirt and cowboy hat he was always the center of attention. One time I remember him sitting on his chair in front of the orchestra talking to all the conducting fellows just like one of the boys but when it came time for the downbeat and he swung his chair around and faced the orchestra he was Leonard Bernstein of New York Philharmonic fame, Candide and Westside Story. It was marvelous! The musical knowledge that he had was so extensive and everyone was in awe of him, yet when he was not conducting he was just one of the boys.
The climax of the summer was when the conducting fellows would each have a chance to conduct the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra in concert at the Hollywood Bowl. I learned that Mr. Bernstein wanted the Institute to become to the L.A. Philharmonic what Tanglewood was to the Boston Symphony Orchestra. With people like Ernest Fleischman behind him (Fleischman margarine) it certainly appeared possible.
I got to know a few of the conducting fellows that summer including Richard Hoenich (the only other Canadian) who was the assistant conductor of the Symphonie de Montreal under Charles Dutoit. Paavo Jarvi’s father was Neeme Jarvi who was a world class conductor. Yakov Kreizberg (Russian) seemed to have the most potential and he was very likeable, I learned later that he was the younger brother of Semyon Bychkov who was also a world class conductor.
As I was older than the rest, I was asked if I wanted to drive the conducting fellows back and forth to the Hollywood Bowl each night in the institute van (I was also the only one with a class four license) and I agreed. Besides driving them to the Hollywood Bowl I remember we all went to a party one afternoon in Malibu at Jerome Lawrence’s house (he wrote Auntie Mame) and on another occasion the fellows all went to a party at Danny Kaye’s house high in the Hollywood hills (only conducting fellows were invited).
During one rehearsal of the institute orchestra, one of the fellows did not seem to know his score very well, so Lenny asked the gallery if anyone knew the score. I remember thinking, “This is my chance!” After all, Bernstein came to prominence when he stepped in and conducted the New York Philharmonic in the 1950s when an ailing Koussevitzky was a no-show. Why couldn’t I do the same? The only problem was I did not know that particular score. It was a ‘lesson learned the hard way,’ always be prepared because you never know when an opportunity may come your way.
Besides being introduced to a lot of wonderful orchestral scores that summer and hearing them performed by two marvelous orchestras, I found an obscure bookstore with out of print books on Toscanini, Shostakovich, Karajan and an Italian conductor who has become one of my favorites Guido Cantelli.
The conducting fellows all made a bet that summer that they would all in a few years be conducting Class A American orchestras. I checked recently to see whether any of them made it. I thought that Richard Hoenich would, for sure, given that he already was assistant to Charles Dutoit but I could not find him anywhere. Paavo Jarvi became the conductor of the Cinncinati Orchestra (he was the boy who did not know his score). Yakov Kreizberg became the most successful of them all, leading orchestras across Europe and America. Unfortunately he passed away in 2011 at the age of fifty-two after a long illness in Monaco. He is buried in Vienna.
As for myself, over the years I became more and more involved in the book business as a writer. I didn’t become a symphony conductor, but it has been satisfying to write books that preserve an important part of Canada’s musical history.

We all went away that summer with a love of anything to do with conducting and an overwhelming love and respect for the man we all got to know and call Lenny!

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