Bernstein’s Apology

25 12 2017

The year was 1953.  Leonard Bernstein was still a few years from becoming the New York Philharmonic’s music director.  But he was already working with the musicians of the Philharmonic as an assistant conductor under Artur Rodziński, and was on the podium for various performances and recordings.  Some may not know that the New York Philharmonic musicians performed as a group under varying names in order to avoid contractual issues with various recording contracts.  In the summers, the New York Philharmonic performed regularly at the Lewisohn Stadium on of the City College of New York.  The ensemble was called the “Stadium Symphony Orchestra of New York”.  Leopold Stokowski made a series of recordings for Everest with the orchestra.


Leonard Bernstein and Engelbert Brenner

The young Bernstein recorded Robert Schumann’s 2nd Symphony with this orchestra.  Engelbert Brenner, the Philharmonic’s 2nd oboist at the time, was playing principle oboe for the recording session.  The 3rd movement has a few expressive, beautiful oboe solos throughout.  After the recording session, Bernstein joined the engineers and producers in the booth to hear the playback of each take.  A few days later, when Bernstein and Brenner were together on another musical engagement, Bernstein found the oboist, and both apologized for the extremely slow and stretched tempi in the slow movement of the Schumann, and praised his playing of the beautiful oboe solos.

Brenner told me this story decades ago, but thanks to YouTube, I finally got to hear this recording and my teacher’s solo playing.

You can find the YouTube video here:

Or, the audio clip can alternately be heard here.

The stretched tempi are apparent as the movement progresses, and the passionate Bernstein interpretation is gorgeous!  Enjoy.