Leonard Bernstein’s debut at the New York Philharmonic


Deep in the Hymie’s blog archives there’s a post about performers who had a tough “first day” on the job, as for instance Temptation Dennis Edwards, who was outshone by his predecessor, David Ruffin, at performances until Motown hired security to keep the ex-Temptation from literally stealing the spotlight.

We ended that post with Heaven and Hell, the first of the few Dio-era Black Sabbath albums. We consider Heaven and Hell a success and singled out “Neon Nights” as a pretty good song, but many regular readers disagreed. There’s never any consensus on Sabbath albums, is there?

The other records we chose all featured disappointing replacements like drummer Kenny Jones, who really can’t be blamed for the Who’s lousy Face Dances album though it’s awfully easy to see it that way. Today we thought we’d feature a successful replacement since there are some. In fact, we think of ourselves as exactly that, not being the original proprietors of your friendly neighborhood record shop. It’s hard to step into big shoes.

bernstein debut

Today’s last-minute replacement, went on to become pretty darn famous himself, and his debut represents a truly historic moment: On Sunday November 14, 1943 twenty-five year old Leonard Bernstein was given a couple hours notice that he must replace the New York Philharmonic’s conductor, the legendary Bruno Walter, who had become ill.

Heard here is the beginning of the evening’s program, which opened with the “Star Spangled Banner” and Robert Schumann’s “Manfred” Overture (Op 115). The highlight of Bernstein’s debut was Don Quixote, one of the most complex and interesting of Strauss’ tone poems. Bernstein handled his assignment with class, and was well received by critics.

He went on, of course, to succeed Dimitri Mitropoulos as musical director of the New York Philharmonic in 1958, following in Walter’s footsteps in one of the most important positions in American music at that time. Bernstein’s eleven years with the Philharmonic included many fantastic recordings which are favorites of ours.

KUSC Radio in Los Angeles, California recorded the performance at Carnegie Hall from a cross-country line. The recording was preserved on 16-inch acetate discs (like the 16-inch records you may have noticed here in the record shop). These were transferred and released by the New York Philharmonic as an in-house souvenir in 1983, the double LP from which we took the recording of Bernstein’s debut.


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