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December 7, 2023

The Maestro at Michigan: Remembering Leonard Bernstein in Ann Arbor


How does one transform into a musical legend? Actor and director Bradley Cooper spent six years preparing for his role as Leonard Bernstein in the much-anticipated film, Maestro. He learned how to conduct music in the style of Bernstein, and was coached by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra (who, coincidentally, will be closing the 23/24 UMS season in April).

Nézet-Séguin also served as the conductor on the film’s soundtrack by the London Symphony Orchestra, and handpicked Bernstein’s compositions from his musicals and operettas to be featured in the film. (Maestro: Music by Leonard Bernstein (Original Soundtrack) is now available for streaming on Apple Music and Spotify.)

Maestro is now showing in theaters (view showtimes at The Michigan Theater) and will be coming to Netflix on December 20, 2023. Learn how Bradley Cooper immersed himself in the life of Leonard Bernstein in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, then explore Bernstein’s cherished conducting history at UMS.

Bernstein’s History in Hill Auditorium

UMS presented Leonard Bernstein in eight Hill Auditorium appearances across 25 years, from 1963 – 1988. View all programs in detail on our UMS Rewind archive, and explore highlights below:

1963-1968 // Bernstein and New York

In September 1963, Leonard Bernstein made his UMS debut in his sixth year as music director of the New York Philharmonic. The program included Johannes Brahms’s Academic Festival Orchestra, William Schuman’s Symphony No. 3, and Brahms’s Symphony No. 4.

Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic returned again in Fall 1967, in two different programs. It would then be another 17 years until Ann Arbor audiences would experience the maestro on the Hill Auditorium stage again…

1984 // Bernstein and Vienna

Leonard Bernstien and the Vienna Philharmonic, February 15-16, 1984

Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic, February 15-16, 1984

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra had only performed in Hill Auditorium once before, in 1956. In February 1984, they triumphantly returned, with Leonard Bernstein at the podium — the first of their three trips together to Ann Arbor within the decade.

1987 // “I love this town”

In September 1987, UMS presented Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in two different programs, which included Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, and Bernstein’s own Symphony No. 1

UMS President Emeritus Ken Fischer had just begun his tenure earlier that year. After the second performance, he approached Bernstein about a return to Ann Arbor the following season, to commemorate both Bernstein’s 70th birthday and Hill Auditorium’s 75th. In his memoir, Everybody in, Nobody Out, Ken recalls this momentous moment at the start of his career at UMS:

When Bernstein invited me into the conductor’s dressing room, he had taken a shower, donned his bathrobe, and taken the one chair in the room. He had a scotch in one hand and a cigarette in the other. It was finally my chance to be alone with him and make my pitch.

Leonard Bernstein and UMS President Emeritus Ken Fischer

Leonard Bernstein and UMS President Emeritus Ken Fischer

Unable to sit and aware that standing over Bernstein was not the best way to make my pitch, I got down on my right knee and looked him in the eye. Without much in the way of preamble, I invited him to return in 1988. He responded in these exact words: “I love this town, I love the people of this town, and I love this hall. We’ll be back.” A few weeks later, he chose New York’s Carnegie Hall, Washington’s Kennedy Center, Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall, and Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium as the stops on his birthday tour. Ann Arbor would be first. The concert was scheduled for October 29, 1988. 

1988 // 70th Birthday Tour

For Leonard Bernstein’s Ann Arbor stop on his 70th birthday celebration tour, UMS made 550 student tickets available at $10 each. The first students arrived 14 hours in advance of the ticket office opening, and the line grew to more than 400 by the morning!

The first 10 students to purchase a ticket, along with 20 previously ticketed music students, were invited to a post-concert gathering at U-M President James Duderstadt’s residence, with Bernstein in attendance.

Leonard Bernstein and students at UM President James Duderstadt's home on October 29, 1988

Leonard Bernstein and students at U-M President James Duderstadt’s home on October 29, 1988

This would be Leonard Bernstein’s final performance in Ann Arbor, which poignantly featured Brahms’s fourth symphony — a work Bernstein had also led in his UMS debut 25 years earlier with the New York Philharmonic.

Leonard Bernstein passed away on October 9, 1990, just shy of two years after this last Ann Arbor appearance. His remarkable performances in Hill Auditorium will always remain treasured memories for UMS and milestones in the University of Michigan’s history of artistic excellence.


We invite you to celebrate his life and legacy in Bradley Cooper’s new film, Maestro, now playing at the Michigan Theater.

Michigan Theater Showtimes