Leonard Bernstein’s Music for String Quartet is set to receive its premiere studio recording and release, with a newly discovered second movement, as yet unheard publicly, to be included on the program.
The piece, composed by Bernstein in 1936 at age 18 while a student at Harvard University in Cambridge, will be performed by Lucia Lin, Natalie Rose Kress, Danny Kim, and Ronald Feldman, produced by PARMA Recordings, and released on the GRAMMY-winning Navona Records label.
“It’s a rare event indeed to present a premiere of any type by a great master of Bernstein’s stature, much less to have something completely unheard as part of it,” says Bob Lord, CEO of PARMA. “We’re honored to be the stewards of this historic project.”
Music for String Quartet received its debut public performance at Tanglewood’s Linde Center on November 6, 2021 by the same group of performers who will record the piece, but it was never truly lost. The manuscript, given by Bernstein to Stanley Benson of the New England String Quartet following a rehearsal reading, was neatly tucked away in the family music cabinet by Benson’s widow Clara.
Clara, who had performed the piece at home with her own quartet from time to time over the years, mentioned it in passing to her daughter Lisa Benson Pickett.
They told their friend, former Boston Symphony Orchestra Music Librarian John Perkel, about the manuscript. The librarian was shocked to learn that a string quartet, a compositional genre long believed to have been unexplored by Bernstein, existed at all in the influential musician’s catalog.
“I had a hard time believing what I was hearing,” says Perkel, who has steadfastly shepherded the piece from its re-discovery to the upcoming production. “In the world of music and art, there is so much which is forgotten, so much which is unknown, that to be able to shed even just a small beam of new light on a genius of Bernstein’s caliber is incredibly special.”
To Perkel’s delight, shortly after the piece’s public premiere a second movement of the string quartet was discovered at the Library of Congress in Washington DC.
“There was a ‘1’ at the top of the original manuscript,” says Perkel, “so I thought that there might be ‘2’ out there somewhere, and sure enough there was.”
“We are so pleased to record this piece which we’ve grown to love dearly,” says violinist Lin. “It has been exciting to peek into Bernstein’s creative process through the lens of this piece written during his formative years.”
The recording, set to take place in 2023, will also contain the seldom-recorded duo piece Elegies for Violin and Viola by composer Aaron Copland, a musical mentor, collaborator, and dear friend of Bernstein’s.