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The Night I Heard Leonard Bernstein Conduct

leonard bernstein in royal blue shirt holding conducting wand
Allan Warren
Wikimedia Commons
Leonard Bernstein in 1973

On Oct. 22, 1983, the Metropolitan Opera threw an all-day bash celebrating its 100th birthday.

Singers active and retired, and some in between, were arrayed on stage.

It was an afternoon of magnificent voices, bawdy gowns, big hair, white ties and tails, and TV cameras — not to mention a society audience, some of whom had paid up to $2,500 for a ticket.

The concert began at 2 p.m. with a dinner break from 6 to 8 p.m., followed by an evening portion that ran well into Sunday morning.

How do I know? I was there.

Thirty-five hundred society swells and me, in dirty chinos and an ill-fitting suit jacket, clutching the box seat. 

How I got there is another story.

The evening portion of the Centennial Gala opened with Leonard Bernstein, conducting Beethoven's Leonore Overture III.

It was 35 years ago, and I can still feel the frisson and hear the applause.

And, in case you don't believe me, a few minutes of this stunning event survive on YouTube.

I was there then, and I'm still here.

Leonard Bernstein is in heaven. With luck, someday I'll meet him there!

Leading up to the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein's birthday on Aug. 25, 2018, Classical 101 is celebrating A Bernstein Summer on air and online.

Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.
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