The New York Philharmonic recently unveiled its digital archives to the public. They haven’t finished the archive quite yet, but they have completed the Leonard Bernstein years, also known as the “International Era.” You can find business correspondence, handwritten notes, 3,200 programs, and gems like this Mahler score, full of notations and comments in Bernstein’s hand. As a recent New York Times article points out, the Bernstein years (1942-70) saw some of the most tumultuous events in American history, and in no way was the Philharmonic immune from its upheavals.
In the archives, one finds the orchestra hiring women for the first time, scouting for African-American musicians (in 1969 they had just one), and even doing its bit to manage U.S.-Soviet relations with several attempts to invite Shostakovich – unsuccessfully. Fans of Glenn Gould might particularly enjoy reading the minutes of a meeting in which members of the board, outraged over Gould’s famously controversial Brahms performance just one month earlier, argued to release him from his contract. Bernstein himself also hated Gould’s interpretation, but had nonetheless defended it before the audience in an historic speech about the pianist’s artistic integrity and judgement. (The video above is of a happier collaboration between the two masters just two years earlier.)
Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.