Leonard Bernstein’s concert whites and baton, gifted to Curtis by his children, honor his long-standing relationship with Curtis.
When one thinks of Leonard Bernstein, the image that generally arises is one of the conductor standing before an orchestra, dressed in his concert best, baton raised in anticipation of that first, crucial note. He stood thus before the Curtis Symphony Orchestra in 1984 and was scheduled to do so again in 1990, before the illness that would take his life a mere nine months later forced him to cancel. Following Bernstein’s death, his children gifted to Curtis a set of their father’s concert whites and a baton—objects that not only epitomized the image of Bernstein as "maestro," but also represented his long-standing relationship with Curtis.
How can a simple vest, bow tie, and baton represent so much? Certainly on the surface they are important simply for what they are – possessions of a successful alum donated to his music school – but there exist additional levels of contextual significance. In the broadest sense the items simply signify music, Curtis’s raison d’etre and the focus of Bernstein’s life. On a more personal level, the concert whites and baton can be seen as a reaffirmation of Bernstein’s connection to Curtis, representing both his main course of study and what he is most famous for – conducting.
However, there also exists a somewhat more poignant connection. These concert whites and baton serve as a reminder of two notable Bernstein concerts at Curtis. The first a triumphant appearance leading the Curtis Symphony Orchestra in a concert capping off the weeklong celebration of the school's 60th anniversary, and the second never performed. Scheduled for February 1990, Bernstein was forced to cancel the planned CSO concert due to ill health and, nine months later, he passed away at the age of 72.
This bittersweet association, rather than being a detraction, actually enhances the significance of the Bernstein children’s gift. When viewed as a whole, these three simple objects achieve a tremendous amount, representing the man, the maestro, and the lasting relationship between Curtis and one of its greatest alums.
Kristina Wilson / archivist / Curtis Archives
For more information on Curtis history, visit the Curtis Archives.