Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Memorial Day, Leonard Bernstein and Green-Wood Cemetery.

The band's stage is set at the front entrance to Green-Wood Cemetery.
Yesterday was beautiful. The sun was shining, a light breeze was blowing and, it just so happens, that our girl and I had decided to spend Memorial Day at Green-Wood Cemetery. So, we took the same 14 block stroll down 5th Avenue that we seem to take every year around this time to find the place absolutely buzzing with activity.

Every year, Green-Wood Cemetery hosts a free (donations welcome, of course) concert. Yesterday's concert featured the InterSchools Orchestra of NY Symphonic Band playing works by Green-Wood's permanent residents Fred Ebb, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Leonard Bernstein, and a few others.

I mean, listen ... I see the looks that I get from people when I answer "What did you do for the holiday?" with "I walked Green-Wood Cemetery." ... Come on. You know you're one of those people. ... I understand that not everyone feels as comfortable with it - or drawn to it - as I do. But, don't judge: there is so much history there - not to mention that it's one of the most breathtaking places I've ever seen. I must say that I am lucky that our girl finds it as interesting and fun as I do. She's always up for "a day at Green-Wood".

Green-Wood is an astonishing place. Comprised of 478 marvelous acres of hills, valleys, glacial ponds and paths, Green-Wood was founded as a rural destination to which people would come to picnic, hike and just sit in the peaceful quietness. That peaceful quietness is now more precious than ever given that it is something that eludes us here in the City. Throughout the steep hills and deep valleys of Green-Wood exists one of the largest outdoor collections of 19th- and 20th-century statuary, mausoleums, and a truly stunning chapel. Four seasons of beauty from century-and-a-half-old trees offer a peaceful oasis to visitors, as well as to its 560,000 permanent residents. Those permanent residents include Leonard Bernstein, Boss Tweed, Charles Ebbets, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Horace Greeley and the Steinway family whose mausoleum is the largest in the Cemetery - able to hold 240+ interments on two separate floors. In additon, there are Civil War generals, baseball legends, politicians, artists, entertainers and inventors.

Leonard Bernstein is, of course, one of the visits I like to make at least once a year. Positioned just off of Liberty Path, Leonard Bernstein is interred on Battle Hill - which is the highest natural point in Brooklyn. His burial plot, which he shares with his wife Felicia Montealegre Bernstein and one of their daughters, is truly one of the most serene and quiet places at Green-Wood. From Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, New York’s Buried Treasure by Jeffrey I. Richman:
Green-Wood Cemetery was founded as a nonsectarian Christian cemetery. However, over the years a few Jews have been buried there. Certainly the most prominent of those is Leonard Bernstein. It is not surprising that Bernstein would choose Green-Wood, rather than a predominantly Jewish cemetery, as his final resting place. Bernstein was long interested in diverse religions. He maintained a lifelong involvement with Judaism, writing several works of music, including Kaddish, which were derived from the Old Testament. But he also had a great interest in Catholicism, and wrote Mass for the opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in 1971.
So, in honor of Memorial Day, Leonard Bernstein and Green-Wood Cemetery, here are some of my favorite Bernstein clips:

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