Newsroom
NEWSROOM

Jacobs School Receives Priceless Gift from Bernstein Family

< News Archives

Release Date: 3/09/2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music today (March 9) announced the receipt of an unprecedented gift from the family of Leonard Bernstein that contains the contents of Leonard Bernstein's Fairfield, CT, composing studio, including a conducting stool from the Vienna Philharmonic that is said to have been used by Johannes Brahms.

“We are honored to receive this gift, which follows a rich collaborative and professional relationship between the Bernstein family and the Jacobs School that began in the early 1970s,” said Gwyn Richards, dean of the Jacobs School of Music. “In a real sense, Leonard Bernstein connected with our school and its leadership, and it is thrilling to know that the link with Indiana continues and is strengthened through this remarkable gesture.”

“My father's artistic and educational connection with Indiana University was profound,” said Leonard's son, Alexander Bernstein. “He adored the institution and became close to the dean, faculty and, of course, students. On one of his first trips to Bloomington, he said, 'I have to report that I've fallen in love with the school.' My sisters, Jamie and Nina, join me in celebrating the continuation of this relationship by literally bringing together two places in which he was happiest working. We cannot imagine a more fitting home for this exciting new presentation of Leonard Bernstein's working life.”

The Jacobs School plans to create a Leonard Bernstein Studio that will contain the items of the Leonard Bernstein Studio Collection in substantially the same arrangement as they existed in Bernstein's Fairfield, CT, studio. The space will also be used as a teaching studio for distinguished guests. Most of the contents of the room will be available for students, faculty and the general public, who can examine the items that surrounded the great composer during a significant portion of his career and read through books and music scores that were given to the Jacobs School as part of separate gifts from the Bernstein family. Following planning for the Jacobs School's new North Faculty Studio Building and consultation with the Bernstein family on the arrangement and appearance of the studio, a location will be announced.


Bernstein's Fairfield, CT, composing studio

Selected items from the collection will also go on display for a few weeks in the lobby of the Musical Arts Center this spring. This will coincide with the announcement of the upcoming IU Opera and Ballet Theater 2009-2010 season.

Craig Urquhart, vice president of public relations and promotion for The Leonard Bernstein Office, said Bernstein's Fairfield studio was one of just two studios where he composed during the last 30 years of his life (the other was in New York City). During that time, Bernstein wrote his “Harvard Norton Lectures” and composed several of his best-known works: Kaddish, his third symphony; Halil; Arias and Barcarolles, which includes Mr. and Mrs. Webb Say Goodnight (dedicated to Dean Emeritus Charles and Kenda Webb); Mass; Divertimento; his ballet Dybbuk; the opera A Quiet Place; and Songfest, among many others.

“Leonard Bernstein was one of the greatest classical musicians of the 20th century and the first American conductor to have an international career,” said Urquhart. “The significance of his legacy is profound. To be able to recreate a space in which he functioned, for the world to see, will be a remarkable educational experience.”

Said Phil Ponella, director of the William and Gayle Cook Music Library and director of Music Information Technology Services at Jacobs, of the collection, “There is nothing like standing in front of Leonard Bernstein's standup composing desk with blank paper, visualizing how he might have composed. While nearly every item has a story behind it—for example, the conducting stool traditionally thought to be used by Brahms, given to Bernstein by the Vienna Philharmonic on the event of his 70th birthday—my most exciting moments were when I unpacked one of his batons, and then a pencil and ruler that were with some blank manuscript paper. The extraordinary items contained in the gift sum up the legacy he has left behind, that of perhaps the greatest American conductor and composer.”

Additional items in the collection include 39 Grammy nomination plaques and a rocking chair.

“He led the international orchestra in Berlin during the collapse of the Berlin wall, and the collection contains a piece of the Berlin Wall that he signed,” added Melissa Korzec, associate director of development at the Jacobs School. “These gifts are priceless.”

Bernstein's history with the IU Jacobs School of Music

Bernstein had a long-standing relationship with the Jacobs School of Music that began in the early 1970s, when Jacobs Dean Emeritus Charles Webb received a call from Bernstein's manager, the late Harry Kraut. Kraut invited the IU Opera Department to do a one-month tour of Bernstein's opera Trouble in Tahiti in Israel to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Bernstein's first conducting in Israel.

“The philharmonic wanted to do the opera with young voices of people in their 20s, for whom the opera was originally written,” said Webb. “The one caveat was that they wanted to see the opera first.”

The school mounted the opera and impressed the Bernstein representative enough that they invited nearly 30 Jacobs students to Israel for a one-month tour.

In 1987, Bernstein established the Leonard Bernstein Scholarship at the Jacobs School of Music after winning the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, West Germany's most prestigious music award. Two thirds of the prize money was used as a contribution to the scholarship, an amount that was matched by funds from Herman B Wells. The scholarship, established to further the education of talented students, is made available to two Jacobs School of Music students each year.

In 1988, the Paris Opera was in a bind: The company was preparing to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Bastille Day with performances in a new opera house -- but the house wasn't ready on time, and then the general manager of the opera was fired, spurring a slew of walkouts by irate performers.

“The president of France contacted Leonard Bernstein and said, 'Could you help us?, and Leonard Bernstein had an ingenious idea," said Webb. "He said, 'Why don't you forget about professional singers? As soon as your opera house is ready for an opera, they'll be back. Open the opera with the four best student orchestras in the world and put on an orchestra festival of one week, with each one playing a different night,” Webb recalled. Once again, Bernstein thought of the Jacobs School (then the IU School of Music); the Paris Opera paid for 100 School of Music musicians to spend the week in Paris.

The most significant School of Music-Bernstein connection came in 1981, when Webb got another call from Kraut saying Bernstein was working on what would be his final opera, A Quiet Place, and sought a place where singers could learn parts quickly, where he could discuss his compositions and receive their feedback.

“Harry Kraut said, 'How would you like to have Leonard Bernstein in residence for two months?'” Webb recalled. “This was unheard of—of course I said we'd love to have him. We had a great presence here—probably the world's greatest living musician.”

During his time in Bloomington, Bernstein worked on compositions at night and brought them to student singers during the day, also making time to work with conductors and composers. He also spent a lot of time with the Webb family at Charles Webb's home.

At the time, Bernstein said, “I am working well here; we have accomplished a lot. It's extraordinary to have so many talented people in one place. I'm honored that such beautifully prepared students have taken time from their studies . . . to prepare my opera.” Privately, he told Webb, “I hope you know what you have in your school.”

In 1988, the Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts was planning a celebration in honor of Bernstein's 70th birthday and asked the composer which of his compositions he would like to see performed. He suggested his Mass.

“The people at Tanglewood said they didn't have the resources to do that—it requires a huge orchestra, a jazz band, children's chorus, regular chorus, ballet dancers . . . ,” said Webb. “So once again, Leonard Bernstein said, 'Why don't you call Indiana University?'”

After the performance—which involved 250 IU students—Bernstein reportedly said, “This is one of the greatest concerts I have ever heard.”

“Then he went on to say, 'I don't just mean one of the greatest concerts of Mass, I mean of anything.' It's quite a statement to say that,” said Webb.