André Watts, 16, debuts with New York Philharmonic

The 16-year-old André Watts debuts with the New York Philharmonic in a Young People’s Concert, nationally broadcast in prime time on CBS, Jan. 15, 1963. Leonard Bernstein introduces him with distinct references to Watts’ race. (His parents were Hungarian and African-American.) This was the Civil Rights Era, after all.

“Look, he was a very smart man, he thought this through,” Watts, referring to Bernstein’s speech, told me in 2016. “I’m sure he discussed it, ‘Can I say this? Can I not say this? How far can I go?’”

With this same piece (Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1) a couple weeks later, Watts substituted for an ailing Glenn Gould on New York Philharmonic subscription concerts, Bernstein conducting. Watts had to ask his mother if it was OK first. A commercial recording on Columbia was also made at the time and is still in print.

Watts performs Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto tonight and tomorrow with Pacific Symphony.

Here are two interviews I did with Watts, nearly 26 years apart.

André Watts Sounds Off. Los Angeles Times, Nov. 30, 1990.

André Watts Looks Back on a Storied Career. Orange County Register, May 27, 2016.

Leonard Bernstein: 99

Today is Leonard Bernstein’s 99th birthday. We remember him as a composer and conductor, of course, but we sometimes forget he was an exceptional pianist too. Here he is with the New York Philharmonic, playing and conducting Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Video: Overture to ‘Candide’

As part of their annual Symphony in the Cities concerts this month in Newport Beach, Irvine and Mission Viejo, Carl St.Clair and the Pacific Symphony will perform Leonard Bernstein’s rambunctious Overture to “Candide.” Here’s Bernstein himself conducting the New York Philharmonic in a lightning fast account of the score in 1962. The performance was nationally broadcast in the Young People’s Concerts series.

Video: Stravinsky conducts ‘The Firebird’

Stravinsky conducts the last three scenes of his own “Firebird” with the New York Philharmonic in 1960. After a bit of a slow start, this is a very nice performance, with considerable heat. Stravinsky didn’t have a strong conducting technique, but he knew how to get what he wanted. Notice the ending — he gets the most out of the final brass peroration and that marvelous “lift” of the fourth to last chord. Leonard Bernstein gives the intro.