Leonard Bernstein at the Konzerthaus Berlin

Konzerthaus Berlin

"I love this concert hall, I love the people here!"

"I love this concert hall, I love the people here, and I love this audience. I’ll be back!" He kept his word: seven times from 1984 to 1989, Leonard Bernstein stood on the conductor’s podium of the Berlin Konzerthaus, at that time still the Schauspielhaus. Numerous concertgoers as well as long-time Konzerthaus staff and orchestral members still recount humorous, fascinating and surprising encounters with the conductor, composer and music educator. Join us on a small voyage of discovery through formative encounters with Bernstein.

Leonard Bernstein arrived at the Schauspielhaus for the first time on 24.10.1984 – with the Vienna Philharmonic. In October 1987, he once again took to the stage of the Great Hall, conducting Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra three times. The occasion for these concerts was the 750th anniversary of the city of Berlin. Franz Schubert’s Symphony in C Major D. 944 and Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony in D Major were on the programme.

There are numerous stories about the blue and white jacket that Bernstein wore in a public rehearsal at the Schauspielhaus. When he gave three concerts at the Schauspielhaus as part of Berlin’s 750th anniversary in October 1987, Bernstein also made himself available for autographs. The conductor’s eye fell on a windbreaker worn by a Berlin student. He offered him his black jacket in exchange. The student agreed, and Bernstein stood on stage at the Schauspielhaus the very next day with the new, eye-catching jacket.
In the following years, on 17.10.1988 and 14.07.1989, Bernstein returned to the Schauspielhaus on Gendarmenmarkt. In 1988, he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra performing his own works. In 1989, he conducted the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival Orchestra performing Berlioz, Debussy and Mendelssohn. The signature of Justus Frantz, founder and long-time director of the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, can be seen in the brochure.

Bernstein conducted the most famous Schauspielhaus concert on 25.12.1989 – shortly after the fall of the Wall. Under the title "The Berlin Celebration Concert", he conducted an orchestra that had never existed in this form until then. On stage were musicians from both German states and those of the anti-Hitler coalition. The concert became a spectacular and symbolic event. On the programme: Beethoven’s moving Ninth Symphony with the famous final chorus, whose text Bernstein changed for the occasion. "Ode to Joy" thus became "Ode to Freedom".

Particularly touching was a handwritten change that Bernstein made in his score: In "Ode to Joy", Bernstein replaced the word "joy" with "freedom" each time. A quotation from Bernstein could also be read in the programme brochure that evening: "[…] If there ever were a historical moment in which one can neglect the theoretical discussions of academics in the name of human freedom – this is it. And I believe that Beethoven would have given us his blessing. Let freedom live!"

Bernstein was always a political person. After the "Berlin Celebration Concert", he and his long-time assistant Craig Urquhart made their way to the Berlin Wall. There he borrowed a hammer from a little boy and chipped away some pieces of the Wall. He took them home to his family – special souvenirs with a strong symbolic character.

The Viennese sculptor Hubert Wilfan presented a special bust to the city of Berlin on the occasion of its 750th anniversary in 1987: a bronze portrait of Leonard Bernstein. For many years, the bust has been located at the Konzerthaus Berlin, commemorating its connection with the American composer.
For the 2013/14 season, the Konzerthaus Berlin honoured Leonard Bernstein with a ten-day tribute. With numerous concerts, films, an exhibition and much more, we focused on his work and creativity. The tribute was officially opened on 7 November 2013 by our Artistic Director, Prof. Sebastian Nordmann, and Leonard Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie Bernstein.
Special display items made a visit to the tribute worthwhile. Among other items, the exhibition showcased Leonard Bernstein’s tailcoat, which he wore while conducting a concert here in the house. The original score of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, used by Bernstein for the "Berlin Celebration Concert" on 25 December 1989 in the Konzerthaus Berlin, was also on display.
Bernstein’s works were performed several times at the Konzerthaus Berlin in February 2017. The composer was included in our ten-day national festival honouring the USA with works from "On the Waterfront" and the suite from the musical "Candide". These works, performed by the Konzerthausorchester Berlin under the American conductor Wayne Marshall, opened the festival. The vocal parts in the opening concert were sung by the American Kim Criswell.
Konzerthaus Berlin
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