RRC Blog

Bernstein at the '75 Golden Anniversary Banquet: a challenge for values

Posted by Barbara Benedett on 4/23/21 11:36 AM

[pictured: Bernstein, back row, 2nd from left, with classmates in Counterpoint and Harmony class, taught by Richard Stöhr]New in the digital library: an excerpt from Curtis's 1975 Golden Anniversary Banquet which includes an address by Leonard Bernstein. Introduced by fellow conducting alum Boris Goldovsky, Bernstein recounts the bright and dark points of his time at the institute. Seen as "too Harvard" and a "smart-aleck", Bernstein had difficulty fitting in with Curtis's more insulated, conservatory-minded culture. His experience at Harvard had fostered his interest in world affairs, political and
philosophical debate, and campus activism. At Curtis, he did not initially find like-minded students, many of whom were much younger than he. Bernstein often gravitated to friendships with faculty, including director Randall Thompson. Interestingly, Thompson also clashed with the institute for his interest in instilling a more holistic, inclusive curriculum. Bernstein remarked,

“The school at the time was a fairly accurate reflection
of the isolationist attitude that gripped a large part of our country. The motto was: Avoid
entanglements. Curtis was an island of musical enterprise. There seemed no one with whom
I could share my feelings, at least not among the students. Those first few months were lonely
and agonizing.”

At perhaps the lowest point in his stay, Bernstein was threatened by another student (the news came to him through Thompson). After the student was expelled and news of the threat circulated, however, the climate changed. Fellow students rallied to his side in support. The unfortunate incident helped promote a dialogue that emphasized commonalities rather than differences among students, greatly improving Bernstein's remaining time at the institute.

Bernstein's address is at times surprisingly relevant, both inside Curtis's walls and beyond. He challenges his 2 former institutions, Harvard and Curtis, as well as all listeners, to question where intellectualism and virtuosity rank among other values such as kindness, generosity, and acceptance.

Listen to the speech here:


For related material see:



A transcript of the address is printed in Bernstein's 1982 book, Findings

[pictured: Bernstein, back row, 2nd from left, with classmates in Counterpoint and Harmony class, taught by Richard Stöhr]



Thanks to Associate Librarian, Pete Williams for editing and posting the excerpt.

Also, thanks to Curtis alum, Roger Blackburn (trumpet, 1969) for the suggestion!




Topics: Curtis Archives and Library