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A Tribute to Leonard Bernstein in Somerville, Massachusetts

November 12, 2011 in Cambridge, Leonard Bernstein, Music

Leonard Bernstein was born and raised in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where his family ran a bookstore. He studied in Boston and Cambridge, as well as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In New York City he became known as a producer, in Vienna and Israel he was touted as one of the world’s greatest conductors; it was Tanglewood, however, to which Bernstein would “come home” to perform the work, and foster the friendships, that helped shape who he was as a person.

Cynthia Woods, Music Director of the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra and acclaimed international guest conductor, sheds light on the importance of Place in Leonard Bernstein’s life and career.

While Bernstein had long standing associations with many orchestras and areas–New York, Vienna, Israel–his lifelong relationship with Tanglewood, Massachusetts, stands out as one of the most defining places and experiences of his life.

Leonard Bernstein was accepted into the Tanglewood program in 1940 by Serge Koussevitzky, the iconic conductor and director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at that time. Bernstein had already finished his studies at Curtis with Fritz Reiner, another major influence, but it would be his time spent studying with Koussevitzky that would shape the public persona that everyone would come to know; the flair for the dramatic, the commitment to new music, and a love of teaching became principals that defined him for the rest of his life. It would also be at Tanglewood that first summer where Bernstein would meet another of his greatest friends and musical influences, Aaron Copland.

Bernstein maintained a relationship with Tanglewood for the rest of his life, eventually taking over for Serge Koussevitzky, teaching young conductors and composers, and leading the BSO in their summer season. It would also be at Tanglewood that he would “come home” to give his final concert. On August 19, 1990, Bernstein gave his final concert, almost collapsing on stage from a coughing fit, forcing himself to continue on and giving one of his greatest performances. All of his friends and family say that he knew it would be his final performance. He would die a few weeks later on October 14, 1990.

The Cambridge Symphony Orchestra is playing A Tribute to Leonard Bernstein, Sunday November 13, 2011, at 4:00PM at the Somerville High School on Highland Avenue.

The program includes the Overture to Candide, an operetta composed by Bernstein in 1956, based on the satirical novella by French philosopher Voltaire; a sweet and compelling orchestration of West Side Story, which premiered on Broadway in 1957; and in excellent contrast, Symphony No. 3 by early Romantic composer, Robert Schumann.

Please join us for a beautiful program and a historical, musical tribute to Leonard Bernstein—the places that influenced him, and indeed, the places influenced by him.

Boston Has Fewer Bookstores Than Columbus, Ohio

July 13, 2011 in Harvard Square, Massachusetts

Pangloss and Schoenhof's bookstores, January 1983. Image courtesy of HarvardSquare.com

In the past few months, two bookstores in my neighborhood have closed their doors. This might not be a surprise, considering the dire state of brick-and-motor stores around the country, but I happen to live in one of the most academic regions in the United States, where reading is second only to breathing. Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a historical hotbed of the bookstores, should be a natural habitat of the printed word. Unfortunately, it seems that even here, there is no sanctuary from competing online retailers.

This wasn’t always the case. Back in the 1950′s, Harvard Square was home to over 20 different independent booksellers that specialized in everything from obscure poetry to children’s books. Now, independently owned shops like the Harvard Bookstore, Raven Bookstore, Schoenhof’s Foreign Books, and Grolier Poetry Book Shop are far and few between. And while you can buy almost anything at the Harvard Coop, it is owned by Barnes & Noble (the antithesis of a cooperative), thus making it a disappointing substitute for the Square’s former tenants.

According to The Boston Globe, the most recent closures are the direct result of the economy and the increased digitalization, which has hit publishing even harder than most industries. The Globe Corner Bookstore, which specialized in travel books and narratives, will now be operated solely online, and the Curious George & Friends bookshop (the only one of its kind in the world) has also been forced to shut down to the dismay of its many fans.  And as Brian McGrory wrote in the article, Vanishing ink in Hub’s core, the damage is not limited to the Cambridge side of the Charles River; the closure of the Borders location at Downtown Crossing highlights this “stunning fact:”

After Borders is gone, it will leave Boston, the literary capital of the United States, with exactly one major bookstore within the city limits. That store is the Barnes & Noble in the Prudential Center, and who knows how long it will be around.To put this in perspective, Columbus, Ohio, has more major bookstores than Boston — many more. So do San Diego and San Jose and just about any other city you can name. It wasn’t that long ago when the Harvard Bookstore stood on Newbury Street across from the massive Waterstone’s, not far from the Brentano’s in the Copley Mall.

While the closures have been met with sadness, it seems like there’s nothing to do about the dearth of bookstores in the area. Hillel J. Stavis and Donna T. Friedman, co-owners of the Curious George bookshop, have plead repeatedly for funds to keep their business going, but no one stepped forward. “From the perspective of a viable business, a Cambridge landmark and as a viable non-profit, we hope that an angel contributor will step forward,” Stavis said at a City Council meeting earlier this year.

As a Cambridge resident, I share the disappointment of many locals who consider bookstores a valuable part of our cultural and physical landscape. Instead of mourning the loss of two great establishments, however, I’ve decided to view this as a reminder. Retailers like Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble have their uses—there is no better place to buy up-to-date text books or trashy and disposable paperbacks—but it’s important to support local business. Instead of spending my money online, I’m going to make a concerted effort to visit the few shops we have left in the flesh, starting with the Harvard Square Bookshop. 

After all, this can be a very effective way to change the course of events—and recent trends shows that it does work. Earlier this year, Rodney’s Bookstore, located in Central Square, announced their going out of business sale. Prices were slashed 50% on all stock, and the entire area mourned the loss of a landmark business. Every time I walked by on my way to the train, I felt an uneasy mix of sadness and greedy excitement at the thought of all those half-priced hardcovers. However, when the fateful day finally came, Rodney’s announced that, thanks to their many fans, they were able to raise enough funds to stay in business. Now I feel a certain satisfaction when I walk by the quirky shop. Maybe my purchases, driven by my desire for discounted books, helped save Rodney’s. At least, that’s what I like to think.

Friday Links: Book News From Around The Internet

April 23, 2010 in Uncategorized

Every Friday, the staff at Literary Traveler gathers up relevant book news from around the web, bringing it together in a handy post for book lovers to peruse.  Enjoy!

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Transcendental Vagabonds: Boston Recovers from a Raven’s Sting

October 29, 2009 in Classic Writers

One hundred and sixty years ago this month, Edgar Allan Poe met a penniless end after being found on the streets of Baltimore. The city of Baltimore has been host to many celebrations of the poet’s life and works, and the focus on this city is fitting, as Poe felt much adoration for Baltimore, having lived there for several years. But 2009 also marks the 200th anniversary of the poet’s birth, and this year the city of Boston put aside pride to commemorate a decidedly prodigal son.

Edgar Allan Poe was born on Carver Street in Boston, Massachusetts, to actors Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins and David Poe. Though he moved to Virginia when he was only three years old, after his parents died, Poe returned to Boston after dropping out of the University of Virginia. Only 18, Poe faked his age and name to enlist in the Army, and was subsequently stationed briefly at Castle Island in the Boston harbor. Poe later moved back to the south, but he returned to Boston a year before he died.

Unlike Longfellow, Lowell, and the other Boston literati of his time, Poe scorned the city, insulting Boston with barbs that sting as only the gleefully clever can. In fact, a very public debate played out in contemporary newspapers following his appearance at the Boston Lyceum in 1845. After audience members took offense to Poe’s demeanor, a Boston editor published a critical review insulting his work. In response, Poe wrote:
We like Boston. We were born there–and perhaps it is just as well not to mention that we are heartily ashamed of the fact. The Bostonians are very well in their way. Their hotels are bad. Their pumpkin pies are delicious. Their poetry is not so good. Their common is no common thing–and the duck-pond might answer–if its answer could be heard for the frogs. But with all these good qualities the Bostonians have no soul. …The Bostonians are well-bred–as very dull persons very generally are. (Poe, The Broadway Journal, Nov 1, 1845.)

Surprisingly, Poe’s first published work, an 1827 collection of poems entitled “Tamerlane,” was signed simply, “By a Bostonian.” Eighteen years later, Poe would vilify Bostonians, who he often referred to as Frogpondians: “The fact is, we despise them and defy them (the transcendental vagabonds!) and they may all go to the devil together.” (Poe, The Broadway Journal, Nov 22, 1845.)

And now, all these years later, the transcendental vagabonds have finally honored the great poet: although his birthplace is now occupied by a State Transportation Building, the corner of Boylston and Charles streets shall evermore be known as Poe Square.

Check out the newest article on LiteraryTraveler.com to learn about the “Poe Toaster,” a mysterious masked man who pays a tribute to Poe annually at the poet’s grave.