Friends and colleagues remembered Leonard Bernstein as an exuberant conductor, a versatile composer and the man who more than anyone else brought American music to the world.
"With him goes a spectacular, special era in American musicmaking," said violinist Isaac Stern, who paused after his 70th birthday tribute at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia on Sunday to remember his friend of 47 years. "He was in a way the epitome of this burgeoning, exultant young powerful giant called musicmaking in this country."Frank Sinatra, who starred in the 1949 film version of Bernstein's "On The Town," called Bernstein's death "a personal loss to me and to the world. He was perhaps one of the 10 best interpreters of fine music in the past 100 years," he said.
"The loss is too great to consider," said "West Side Story" choreographer Jerome Robbins, his voice breaking. "I've lost a very good personal friend and collaborator from early on."
"His departure creates an unfillable gap in our artistic and spiritual life. He leaves us at a moment when we seem to need him the most," said Boston Pops conductor John Williams.
"I was shocked to tears," said retired Utah Symphony music director Maurice Abravanel. He recalled being present at Bernstein's first concert at Tanglewood 50 years ago and at his last concert there Aug. 19.
"His career showed American musicians that an American could get to the top in the field of classical music," Abravanel said. "He showed that a classical musician could get as much applause as a baseball player or a rock 'n' roll guy. But for me his greatest contribution was that whenever he performed music he was never cold-blooded about it - he always gave of himself."
Utah Symphony music director Joseph Silverstein, who worked with Bernstein many times at Tanglewood, agreed.
"Whatever he did, Leonard was always a performer. Even at social gatherings it was impossible to keep him away from the piano. I remember him once giving, at a private home in Boston, a complete performance of the last act of `Carmen,' singing all the roles and playing the orchestral part on the piano. I wish someone had been there to film it."
For him, Silverstein said, Bernstein's early Omnibus television programs "still stand on a level of music appreciation that I don't think has ever been approached. But if a great conductor is someone who can galvanize both an orchestra and an audience at a given moment and create a musical event that remains in your memory the rest of your life, Leonard was certainly a great conductor, because he was capable of doing exactly that on a number of occasions."