One young conductor’s evening with Bernstein…at the Koussevitzkys’!

One young conductor’s evening with Bernstein…at the Koussevitzkys’!

As we count down to Orchestra of Indian Hill opening night and our celebration of Leonard Bernstein, we asked our own Maestro Bruce Hangen about his unique experience as a student at Tanglewood under the legendary composer and conductor. 

It was the early ’70s, and I was in my second summer as a Conducting Fellow at Tanglewood.  Leonard Bernstein was in residence for a time, and conducted the student orchestra in a performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.  It was a great experience for all, after which there was a reception up the hill in the Koussevitzky home, and we student conductors were told it was an obligation not just to attend the reception, but to actually hover around Bernstein at all times.

The reception was winding down around midnight, most guests had departed, and Bernstein asked Madame Koussevitzky if she “still had that Chivas Regal in the kitchen.”

“Why, yes, of course,” Madame said.  Bernstein told her to bring it to the dining room, and had us conductors gather around the table so we could have “an intellectual discussion.”  After we arranged ourselves at the table, he began with, “So, why is there Western music and why is there Eastern music?”

After a couple hours––it’s now about 2:00am ––of our listening politely to the maestro espouse his thoughts about his own question, he said, “Have you ever seen the view of the lake below at this time of night?”  “No, Maestro, we never have,” we naturally responded.  And so we went traipsing out to the back lawn, and––OK, I’ll admit, it really was a gorgeous view from that hilltop, looking over the moonlit lake–– and we listened to Bernstein ooh and ahh and reminisce over his own student days.

Finally, about 4:00am, he decided to leave and we retired, too, somewhat glazed over by the energy, the passion and, yes, the ego of this great Maestro.  Such was how one “studied” with Leonard Bernstein!


Watch Bruce Hangen conduct Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1 on Opening Night, and attend his Pre-Concert and Post-Concert Talks for more about the music, and the legendary Maestro!



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