Beyond These Walls
Newscaster: I want to tell you a little secret about …
Jamie Bernstein: It was the 1940’s.
Jamie Bernstein: Radio was the center of the entertainment world for Americans, and had been for quite a while. The New York Philharmonic had been broadcasting coast to coast since the thirties, when Arturo Toscanini started his legendary tenure. So it wasn’t strange that on December 7, 1941, the NY Phil happened to be on the radio, playing Shostakovich and Brahms.
Jamie Bernstein: Right after the Brahms, the live concert broadcast was interrupted by an urgent report:
Newscaster: The Battleship USS Oklahoma were reported attach in pearl harbor.
Jamie Bernstein: Pearl Harbor had been attacked.
Two were said to have been sunk, but this was not immediately confirmed officially
Jamie Bernstein: The orchestra immediately shifted gears and played the national anthem.
NATIONAL ANTHEM AMBI Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 a date with will live in infamy.
Jamie Bernstein: The attack pulled the US into the war.
Jamie Bernstein: This is the NY Phil Story: Made in New York. I’m Jamie Bernstein.
Jamie Bernstein: The New York Phil helped the country however it could during World War II– donating books, money, and recordings for the Armed Forces library. It even funded two ambulances for the Red Cross.
RADIO ANNOUNCER: The war isn't over, and it won't be over with us on the top side unless we keep America's cars and trucks rolling.
Jamie Bernstein: But as a performing orchestra, what the Philharmonic did best was play music
Jamie Bernstein: including twenty concerts designed for “military and civilian morale” at venues like military hospitals, battleships, and even West Point.
RADIO ANNOUNCER: These are simple, humble things, but right now they're things that count. They can bring those boys back from foreign shores quicker, and it is up to us to see that they do.
Jamie Bernstein: The radio had already made the New York Philharmonic a frequent guest in the homes of Americans nationwide. Take this broadcast, for example, from a Sunday in November of 1943 -- which featured the wartime promo you just heard:
RADIO ANNOUNCER: Good afternoon. United States Rubber Company again invites you to Carnegie Hall to hear a concert of the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. Bruno Walter, who was to have conducted this afternoon, is ill, and his place will be taken by the young American born assistant conductor of the Philharmonic Symphony, Leonard Bernstein. The program includes…
Jamie Bernstein: With just a few hours’ notice before the live broadcast, my very own dad had to pinch-hit for the flu-smitten Bruno Walter – that acclaimed maestro and former protégé of Gustav Mahler. No pressure there, Lenny.
RADIO ANNOUNCER: United States rubber company itself, a century old American institution, takes particular pleasure in bringing the music of the Philharmonic Symphony to the millions of radio listeners every Sunday afternoon. Leonard Bernstein has come out on the platform and will presently lead the Philharmonic Symphony in our national anthem.
Jaap van Zweden: You can become in a day a champion. Or you can, you know, just not do well.
My name is Jaap van Zweden. I am the Music Director of the New York Philharmonic.
Jamie Bernstein: As the New York Daily News wrote after Bernstein’s Philharmonic debut: “It’s like a shoestring catch in center field: make it and you’re a hero, muff it and you’re a dope. Bernstein made it.
Filling in for an ailing artist is something many musicians have done at one point or another. It doesn’t always launch a career on the spot — like it did for my dad — but it can provide an experience that reshapes that artist’s view of themselves and, yes, sometimes their career trajectory.
Jaap van Zweden: Always when I stepped in, I always loved it. I thought it was always a wonderful moment because you you have, of course, a lot of sympathy, from the musicians, from the audience. And if you do well, then you know, it gives you a really a huge push in your career.
Jamie Bernstein: My dad has described how nervous he was waiting in the wings of Carnegie Hall – right up until he gave the downbeat for the national anthem, whereupon he went into some kind of conducting trance. He reported later that from the moment the Phil began playing, all the way to the final bar of Strauss’ Don Quixote, he remembered nothing.
STRAUSS DON QUIXOTE PLAYS ON CRACKLED TAPE
Jamie Bernstein: After that concert, everything changed. Overnight, Leonard Bernstein had become the first American-born big-deal conductor. But no matter how illustrious his career became, he always went the extra mile to help his aspiring musical colleagues -- including a young violinist named Jaap van Zweden. At the time, van Zweden was the concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. During a rehearsal,Bernstein wanted to hear how the ensemble sounded from the audience. And so, he asked Jaap to conduct in his place.
Jaap van Zweden: I had to step in because he wanted to go listen in a rehearsal and I did really bad, but afterwards he came to me and he said, you have to take this serious because I think you belong on that podium. And it really helped me.
Jamie Bernstein: That one moment of mentorship changed the course of Jaap Van Zweden’s career. That was so Lenny: always mentoring, always helping younger musicians. And always, always teaching. Which is one reason why he revered his own teachers so much:
Leonard Bernstein: I had been very lucky in the teachers I had had when I was young,
Jamie Bernstein: That’s my dad, Leonard Bernstein, speaking in 1985.
Leonard Bernstein: My teachers are masters, as we call them. They’re wonderful people who really made a Keats sonnet come alive, who taught me the joy of learning, which I guess you have to have if you're ever going to be a decent teacher.
Jamie Bernstein: He was constitutionally unable to ever turn off that teacher faucet. Actually – take it from me -- it was sometimes more like a fire hose.
Leonard Bernstein: I recognize that I could become too pedagogical, too pedantic, too pointing out the counterpoint or the magical shifts of a Schubert modulation or whatever. But what am I going to do? I am cursed with this need to teach.
Jamie Bernstein: Not such a curse, really – especially with the Philharmonic. The orchestra had been offering family matinees as early as the 1890’s. That tradition continued until, in 1924, the orchestra combined these concerts with multimedia displays and conversation all geared toward the Phil’s youngest fans–and in that moment, the Young People’s Concerts were born. They had even been broadcast on the radio a few times, but when my father took over the orchestra, one of his conditions for taking the job was to put them on that up-and-coming broadcast medium: television. So, in 1958, Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic aired their very first nationally televised Young People’s Concert, over the CBS network – live, in black and white.
Leonard Bernstein: It's about notes E Flats and F Sharps.
Jamie Bernstein: For that very first televised episode, my father picked a deceptively complex topic: What does music mean?
Leonard Bernstein: You see, no matter how many times people tell you stories about what music means, forget them. Stories aren't what music means at all. Music is never about anything. Music just is.
Jamie Bernstein: The Young People’s Concerts were a game changer. Through television, Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic inspired several generations of music lovers – and musicians. My dad had a special knack for explaining complicated musical concepts to kids in a way that wasn’t intimidating or patronizing – but instead was engaging, and yes -- fun.
Rebecca Young: He would sit at the, at the piano and he would relate the classical, the old classical music fuddy-duddy stuff.
I'm Rebecca Young. I'm the associate principal violist with the New York Philharmonic
I think he used to use that word at some point or another and he would make it current.
Jamie Bernstein: When I was a teenager, I was a total Beatlemaniac. Luckily for me, my dad loved the Beatles too. In fact he loved pop music in general. When we were in the family car, my dad would turn on one of our local Top 40 stations – WMCA, or WABC. “Let’s catch up!” he would say. And then, because that firehose could never shut off, he would teach us stuff about music, using the songs we were listening to. One time a song came on that we all loved: “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks. As we were listening, our dad said, “Hey, this song is in the Mixolydian mode! Do you
know what a mode is?” No, of course we didn’t know what a mode was... so he began explaining it to us, right there in the car: all about those ancient, unusual scales with Greek names. A few months later, what do you suppose his next Young People’s Concert was all about: you guessed it – modes! And listen to what happened when he got to the Mixolydian mode:
Leonard Bernstein: Now, this one is called -- don't panic -- this one is called the Mixolydian Mode, and despite its tongue twisting name, it's one of the most appealing and popular modes of all.
Leonard Bernstein: Believe it or not, most of the jazz and Afro-Cuban music and rock and roll tunes we hear owe their very existence to this old Mixolydian mode, like this Cuban riff.
Leonard Bernstein: That's just mixolydian. Of course, the examples I could give you are endless.
Jamie Bernstein: And then: he really went there:
Leonard Bernstein: do you remember a really terrific song? A barbaric number of a few years ago, sung by a group known as the Kinks?
Leonard Bernstein: It's called you Really Got Me
Leonard Bernstein: Girl. You really got me going. You got me so I can’t sleep at night... That's mixolydian!
Jamie Bernstein: I mean, who could resist?! The kids in the audience loved it. But something else was going on here too: Nationwide audiences were receiving an unspoken but very powerful message that the conductor of the New York Philharmonic was embracing pop music! This was back in an era when some parents were protesting against Elvis Presley and the Beatles; they thought rock ‘n’ roll was the devil’s music. But by including the Beatles and the Kinks and the Supremes and all the rest, Bernstein was essentially saying that all music had the power to be great music – and that helped classical music shed its reputation for being snobby. Leonard Bernstein himself was the opposite of a snob; he welcomed everyone into his multifaceted musical world, for the simple reason that he loved it all – and he felt compelled to share.
Jamie Bernstein: This all-embracing quality really spoke to a lot of budding musicians who were watching the Young People’s Concerts. They fell in love with music, right then and there. And quite a number of them went on to become members of the New York Philharmonic.
Stay with us, we’ll be back in a moment.
Jamie Bernstein: This is the NY Phil Story. I’m Jamie Bernstein. Let’s go back to the legacy of the Young People’s Concerts, and the musicians who found a love of music by watching them.
Sharon Yamada: To think about it now to have those on nationwide TV is, is pretty spectacular. I'm Sharon Yamada, violinist in the New York Philharmonic.
I've run into countless people who reminisce about how much music they learned from those, from those shows. And of course, Bernstein, he had a real gift for talking about the music.
Carter Brey: I was lucky enough to grow up in a suburb of New York city that had excellent funding for music instruction. And very, very often our music teachers would take us to the Philharmonic, to the Young People's concerts.
My name is Carter Brey and I'm the principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic.
So, I have vivid memories of sitting there and learning about Sonata form or jazz or harmony from Bernstein.
Rebecca Young: When I was two and a half years old, my mother and father took me to see Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic in the young people's concerts. That's how I was introduced to the New York Philharmonic
Rebecca Young: I don't particularly remember what Bernstein said, but I remember the passion in his voice, and I was hooked.
Rebecca Young: My mom said I used to roll up my programs and one in my left hand and one in my right hand. And I used to pretend I was playing violin. And so, at the ripe old age of four and a half, I remember specifically we were in the garage and she was taking out the garbage and I said, mom, I wanna play violin. And she said “Sell, don't you wanna play piano first?” And I said “No, I wanna do this.” And I did that gesture like I did with the programs. And she said, okay.
Carter Brey: And I still to this day have a program from a New York Philharmonic and people's concert, and it's signed by several members of the cello section because during the intermission break, or before the program, probably I went up to the edge of the stage.
Carter Brey: I had a lot of gumption and I asked various members for their autographs, and I have that to this day. It's in my closet.
Carter Brey: The first piece that I played at my very first rehearsal, that was quite an experience because you have to remember my only experience up to then with Philharmonic Hall had been as an audience member and I'd been coming since I had been a nine-year-old, coming to see Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts.
Rebecca Young: I auditioned for the Philharmonic and the rest is history. So be careful what you wish for. You bring your kids to the young people's concerts, you never know where they're gonna end up.
Carter Brey: So, I was sitting there on stage in my principal cello chair for the very first time looking out at this empty audience, from that perspective, thinking “I can't quite believe this is happening.”
Jamie Bernstein: Years later, when some of these young fans were all grown up, a lucky few would actually get to work with my dad as members of the orchestra.
Sharon Yamada: To see this great superstar music director, he just seemed so larger than life, but here he was living and breathing right there in front of me. So, I definitely was quite starstruck to be around him. He made a really big impression on me as a conductor. I think the way he spoke about music was just so sincere. And he also knew exactly what he wanted and he knew how to express it and to pull it out from the orchestra. I got the very strong sense that he felt every single note that he was conducting. And as a result, we couldn't help but feel completely immersed.
Rebecca Young: He didn't have the greatest hand, like they call stick technique, but it didn't matter. Sometimes he would have his arms thrown back and his head up. And he's listening to the music and he's loving it and it's coming out of his pores. It was just, that was him. It was just him.
Sharon Yamada: It was quite an amazing thing: the, putting your soul into something so committedly.
Rebecca Young: It's all indelibly in my mind, you know, The Memorial concert after he died was in Carnegie Hall with mostly Philharmonic, some people from Boston symphony and other places. And we did Candide overture. And what they decided to do was have a spotlight on the podium and no conductor. Well, no conductor other than Lenny. And so, the concert master stood up. Boom, da da, da, da. And he just gave like one or two beats and then sat down. And that was it.
Jamie Bernstein: Six decades ago, my father helped to bring the New York Philharmonic into America’s living rooms through the Young People’s Concerts. And that impulse to connect with audiences beyond the concert hall has always been alive in the Philharmonic. And that’s partially because of air conditioning–you heard that right.
In the days before central air, concert halls would routinely shut down for the summer. But the Philharmonic still wanted to provide concerts for their city, even in the worst heat of the year!
Which led a “breezy and uninhibited” Minnie Guggenheimer to found the Lewisohn Stadium Concerts–a summer of nightly, low-cost performances on the campus of City College of New York. And while yes, they were fantastic concerts, Minnie ran them, in the words of her obituary, “with a kind of flair and instinct of showmanship that made her the idol of newspapermen, the joy of stadium-goers, and a scandal to grammarians.”
Once the Climate controlled halls of the Philharmonic Hall opened, however, there was no need to play outdoors in the summer. But the orchestra’s manager, the visionary and irresistibly charming Carlos Moseley, argued that the Phil should offer some version of these concerts “for the city.” In that moment the Parks concerts were born. And a few years later, in the summer of 1965 the orchestra made its first tour of parks in the five boroughs of New York City.
Radio Announcer: Good evening. I'm Naomi Lewin and it is a good evening. It's not too hot. There's a nice breeze. And I'm in the middle of Central Park at the north end of the Great Lawn where we're about to hear the New York Philharmonic perform music by Tchaikovsky and Respighi. After last summer's hiatus from concerts in the parks, The Philharmonic is back in full force this year with a tour of all five boroughs. The New York Philharmonic began its long tradition of free concerts in 1965. FADING OUT….That first summer, the orchestra performed in the Sheep Meadow, about a dozen blocks south of here.
Frank Huang: I personally love the parks, concerts. My name is Frank Huang I'm a violinist, I'm the concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic. You play in front of these massive crowds that gather, especially if the weather's nice, you get such a nice mood.
Markus Rhoten: I'm Marcus Rhoten and I'm the principal timpanist of the New York Philharmonic. When you see these thousands and thousands of people, I mean, people they show up in, in the morning even, and they just camp out all day and kind of relax and enjoy the time, to secure a good spot, to be close to the stage.
Carter Brey: The park where I had taken my kids to play and where I take walks--it's suddenly transformed into a stage.
You can't help thinking, wow, this must be what it was like to be Simon and Garfunkel LAUGHS playing at central park. When you look out and you see 50, 60, 70,000 people.
VOX 1: Being a New Yorker and watching the New York Philharmonic in Central Park is one of my all-time favorite things to do. New York City is a richer experience with the Philharmonic in the park.
VOX 2: One year they were doing a lot of Bernstein and the concert opened with the Overture for West Side story, and the minute the overture started, everybody to a person in the audience started going *snap* *snap*.
VOX 3: Hi, my name's Nicole. I'm eight years old and I can't wait to see the show.
VOX 4: I've been coming here ever since I arrived in New York 34 years ago. It's got even more crowded, but the music's always great. The fireworks are good, and now I bring my son.
VOX 5: This is the quintessential New York event. You can't be anywhere else in the summertime if you're not in Central Park, under the stars, under the music, with or surrounded by the people you see. Everyone you've ever wanted to know.
CROWD AMBI CONTINUES
Markus Rhoten: And the best part is, you see all these thousands of people and then you see, the skyline of, downtown as the sun, the lights start, you know, they light up. And that, that contrast is like for me, the most beautiful.
Carter Brey: It's sort of like a controlled circus atmosphere. Everybody is there with their lawn chairs and their picnic blankets and balloons and dogs and having a great time. In a way, it, it reminds me the beginning of the New York city marathon. You feel that you're part of an enormous urban human undertaking that brings out the best in people.
Judy LeClair: I'm Judith LeClair. I'm principal bassoonist of the New York Philharmonic. You know not a big fan of playing outdoors. The changes with humidity and sometimes it's cold or hot and the bugs and the pages flipping. You do it because you see the audience's reaction afterwards. They hear the Philharmonic for the first time, many of them, and they've got fireworks and you're reaching a lot more people. Thousands and thousands more people than could have the benefit of going to a concert hall.
Anthony McGill: I got lucky enough to play a concerto in the park and all of the boroughs and in central park. I'm Anthony McGill and I'm the principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic. It was a-one of the largest crowds. I did not look out into that audience. I smiled. And then I turned to Alan Gilbert and then proceeded to play the concerto. But I was like, I'm not staring at all of those people.
Elliott Forrest: Good evening ladies and gentleman, I’m Elliott Forrest from WQXR Classical 105.9 FM. We’re not gonna let a little rain get in our way, are we? CROWD CHEERS No–show must go on!
Radio Announcer: The New York Philharmonic has just about finished tuning. And now here is Alan Gilbert to conduct the New York Philharmonic in the second half of this concert in the park,
Elliott Forrest: Another Roman adventure coming up. The Pines of Rome features bird calls and offstage brass. The opening movement of Pines of Rome depicts children playing in the pine groves of the Villa Borghese.
Anthony McGill: So the Pines of Rome, it's a gorgeous piece written by Respighi. One of the most famous pieces for the instrument.
Anthony McGill: You know, has huge clarinet solos that just goes on for a whole page.
Radio Announcer: It's been drizzling ever so slightly here. But this has not dampened the spirits or the determination of the New York Philharmonic to perform. And here comes…
Anthony McGill: But the solo is really, really lyrical and sweet in the sweetest part of the clarinet register.
LIVE BROADCAST PINES OF ROME--RESPIGHI
Anthony McGill: and you have to do it with complete legato and smooth sound and sweetness of sound and control and all these things with all this gorgeous expression. And it's really just–it's just clarinet soprano sound
Anthony McGill: And the especially difficult part is that the last note just holds forever.
EXTENDED PLAYING OF END OF PIECE
Anthony McGill:And then you hear the sound of like birds in the distance and it's really gorgeous, but also terribly difficult.
Anthony McGill: In a city like New York, where there are tourists, they wanna see the empire state building and the Statue of Liberty and all of these different things. A lot of New Yorkers are like “What do I want to do in the summer as a tourist in my own town. I want to go to the Philharmonic in the park.” Ya know? And so that's pretty special. It's a landmark for New York, if you will.
PIECE ENDS AND APPLAUSE BEGINS
Jamie Bernstein: Next time on the NY Phil Story: the Philharmonic wrestles with a thorny past as a newly imagined David Geffen Hall opens its doors to the city.
Virginia Sanchez-Korrol: So that urban renewal, where do 1,100 Puerto Rican families–where do they go after San Juan Hill is demolished?
Jamie Bernstein: This is the NY Phil Story: Made in New York, produced by WQXR in partnership with The New York Philharmonic … and hosted by me, Jamie Bernstein!
Our production team includes: Lauren Purcell-Joiner, Helena de Groot, Sapir Rosenblatt, Laura Boyman, Elizabeth Nonemaker, Eileen Delahunty, Christine Herskovits, Natalia Ramirez, and Ed Yim.
Our engineering team includes: George Wellington and Ed Haber.
Special thanks to Monica Parks, Adam Crane, Gabe Smith, and the New York Public Radio Archives, the NYC municipal archives, and CBS.
So long for now!
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.