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November 14: Leonard Bernstein Takes the Baton

November 14, 2014
photoIn storybook fashion, Leonard Bernstein, 25, had his premiere as conductor of the New York Philharmonic on this date in 1943 after maestro Bruno Walter came down with the flu. Bernstein was notified at the last second, and became instantly famous because the Carnegie Hall concert, featuring Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote (which Bernstein had never before conducted), was nationally broadcast by CBS radio. “With no time to assemble the orchestra for a rehearsal,” says the Carnegie Hall website, “Bernstein met only briefly that morning with Walter to review the scores. He did not even own the proper formal wear and had to lead the concert in a gray business suit.” The Daily News called it an “opportunity like a shoe-string catch in mid-field. Make it and you’re hero. Muff it and you’re a dope.” Bernstein went on to conduct more than 375 concerts at Carnegie Hall. In 1948 he became musical director of the Israeli Philharmonic, among his many international honors. A year before his conducting debut, Bernstein completed his Symphony No. 1, “Jeremiah,” which was hailed by New York critics as the mot impressive new work of the year. It was inspired by the Biblical story of the 6th century BCE prophet described in the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, in which Jeremiah witnesses the destruction of the First Temple and the enslavement of the Jews by their Babylonian conquerors. To hear it, look below. “Good afternoon, United States Rubber Company again invites you to Carnegie Hall, to hear a concert of the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra [sic], of which Artur Rodskinski is musical director. 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.” —Radio announcement