Lessons from the Limelight

"Your wooden arm you hold outstretched to shake with passers-by."

Learning from Performers debuted 30 years ago. Jerold S. Kayden ’75, M.C.R.-J.D. ’79, hatched the idea for it and Myra Mayman, head of the Office for the Arts, embraced it. “I was president of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra,” recalls Kayden, now Williams professor of urban planning and design at the School of Design. “I got cellist Janos Starker to be a soloist, and his manager said, ‘By the way, for an extra hundred bucks, we’ll throw in a master class.’ The class was for me far more exciting than the concert. I thought it would be terrific if Harvard had these things regularly.”

Kayden set up Learning from Performers and ran it for its first year. His plan was to invite great artists in music, dance, theater, film, and the visual arts to come to Harvard for short periods of time to talk about and demonstrate their art. “My implementation strategy,” he says, “was that there were people who were coming through Boston already, paid for already. What artists treasured was that they were being invited to teach at Harvard. That got them to come. When they came, I made sure that Harvard honored them.”

Illustration by Mark Steele

Kayden brought in 19 artists that first hit season, among them singer Sarah Vaughan, sculptor Anthony Caro, actor Brian Bedford, and the musical-theater team of Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince. Of course, not all went perfectly.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra had engaged Mstislav Rostropovich to play the Dvorak cello concerto, and he agreed to live at Leverett House for a week and give a master class. When he arrived at the airport, with his cello, his dog Puki, and his luggage, speaking no English, no one was there to meet him. The manager of the symphony thought Kayden was picking him up; Kayden thought the manager was. Rostropovich disappeared and was finally discovered, volubly furious, in the Colonnade Hotel. But he did calm down and did gave a master class in Sanders Theatre. “It was a wonderful event,” says Kayden. “Through a translator, Rostropovich entertained, preened, charmed, and bearhugged everybody on stage, including me. He bear-hugged the entire audience.”




Spear-carrier: Learning from performing can be risky, as Arnold W. Frutkin ’40, a retired NASA official of Nellysford, Virginia, recalls in “Banishing Bernstein” in the autumn 2003 Virginia Quarterly Review. He and the flamboyantly talented Leonard Bernstein ’39 were friends as undergraduates. “The first small hint of potential disaster in our relationship followed on the heels of Orson Welles’s arrival in Boston some-time during my junior year,” Frutkin writes. “Welles had pasted together a play he called Five Kings, melding several of Shakespeare’s best into one of Welles’s worst. I think it was Bernstein who passed the word that extras, spear-carriers, were wanted and would be paid for their trouble. Burgess Meredith, John Emery (a husband of Tallulah Bankhead), Welles himself, and several fair young ladies were in the cast. The combination of pay, luminaries, and change of scene was too seductive. A number of us, without a responsible thought, turned our back on the classroom and spent two weeks in rehearsal and another (as much as the play lasted) lolling about the theater and beering between acts at Jake Wirth’s nearby emporium, glorious in our costumes. Bernstein told us that the organist who provided a behind-the-scenes accompaniment to the play was Aaron Copland. I realized I was supposed to be impressed but it was 1938 and I had never heard of the gentleman. Welles provided a full measure of the tantrums and histrionics to be expected from an adapter-producer-director-actor struggling to deliver his baby. Emery and Meredith conspicuously despised each other, in both rehearsals and performances.… Rumors of alcoholic goings-on in the corridors of the cast’s quarters at the Ritz were not only rife but entirely believable. At the long-overdue closing performance, when we extras were to sing our nightly Latin chorale for the nuptials of Henry V and Catherine de Valois, it was only a small incremental madness for us to substitute ‘Fair Harvard.’ The Boston audience was convulsed. All in all, those manic three weeks removed from the classroom came as close to wrecking my college career as was tolerable.”        

~Primus V


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