My recent Bernstein story clearly struck some chords. So here, by popular demand, is another Lenny snapshot from John Drummond’s autobiography.
Bernstein made his first appearance at the Proms in 1987, with the Vienna Philharmonic. It was a very successful concert, with a memorable performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, and he was on his best behaviour, as he usually was with the Vienna Philharmonic, who, despite their legendary anti-Semitism, liked him very much. Backstage afterwards, he was full of praise for the audience, especially for the attention and stillness of the promenaders. He explained to me, as if to a slightly backward child, that nobody knew about the Proms. He would make it his ambition to tell the world. So we looked for further possibilities of collaboration.
The following year he was scheduled to conduct the youth orchestra specially formed for the newly established Schleswig-Holstein Festival, an initiative of the German pianist Justus Frantz, who had gone out of his way to befriend Bernstein. Negotiations were carried out through Bernstein’s manager, an inscrutable American called Harry Kraut, distinguished by one of those bizarre Abraham Lincoln beards that cover only the jawline. Kraut said – and Jacky Guter, who was with me, can confirm this – that Bernstein would do a concert in the Proms with the Schleswig-Holstein Orchestra either free, out of enthusiasm for them and for the Proms, or, at the very worst, for a special low fee. Kraut has always denied that this exchange took place.
The administration of the orchestra proved totally incompetent. Despite warnings from us, they failed to sort out work permits for the non-EEC players, and two days before the concert Frantz (photo below) was ringing up none other than the German Foreign Minister to sort out the mess. The van with the instruments and the orchestral parts arrived in London the day before the concert, but was unable to find the Albert Hall; most of the rehearsal on the day of the concert was lost because of its late arrival. In the first half of the programme, three young conductors from the summer course were to conduct short pieces. They got no rehearsal at all, because the second half - which was to be televised – consisted of Bernstein’s own song cycle Songspiel. The evening came, and by 7.25 there was no sign of Bernstein. He showed up at 7.28 and was obviously under the influence of some substance or other. He could not be persuaded to get ready to go on. Jacky said, ‘We’re live on the radio in two minutes.’ ‘Who gives a fvck about radio?’ said Bernstein. ‘Well, we do – and they are, after all, paying your fee,’ said Jacky – a reference to the fact that we had in the end been forced to pay something approaching Bernstein’s normal rate.
Grossly unfair to all the young conductors, Bernstein took all the limelight. And when afterwards a considerable number of people were invited back to the Savoy for supper, he kept the company waiting for over an hour and a half. I was tired and wanted to go home. Humphrey Burton and his wife begged me not to. When Bernstein finally arrived, and we were seated at several tables in a private room, I found myself with Bernstein at a table with a lot of women whom I did not know. Bernstein started telling a string of really disgusting stories, full of four-letter words and sexual references. After a while, I protested. Bernstein turned to me and said, ‘What’s the matter with you, you dreary old queen?’ The project to tell the world about the Proms came to an unhappy end.
But, read about Bernstein’s musical genius in Critical Mass.
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