Leonard Bernstein’s 10-year affair in Japan

Leonard Bernstein’s 10-year affair in Japan


norman lebrecht

August 17, 2019

Mari Yoshihara, a scholar at the University of Hawaii, has turned up 350 letters at the Library of Congress detailing an unknown love affair between the musician and Kunihiko Hashimoto, a young man he met who was working at a Tokyo insurance company.

Her researches will be published shortly by Oxford University Press under the title, Dearest Lenny: Letters from Japan and the Making of the World Maestro .

Report here.

photo: Hashimoto/OUP/The Guardian


  • Esther Cavett says:

    So these were not in the big Letters by LB, edited by Nigel Simeone ?

  • 16VA says:

    More prurient piffle.

    • Bernstein fan says:

      If the article was about Bernstein attending orgies and relished in graphic detail, it would be prurient. As it is, the story is about a tender love affair. It’s really sweet, and rather sad.

      Except, of course, to the lonely bigots who would be shocked that Bernstein’s affair happened to be with someone of the same gender.

      • Max Raimi says:

        Yes; here is a thought experiment. How would people react if the article were about an extremely prominent heterosexual musician/composer who had a relationship with a young woman? Would it still horrify people as “prurient”? I suspect not. Although the wonderful poet Lisel Mueller did weigh in eloquently on this issue: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/54643/romantics

  • Sharon says:

    Wonder how Hashimoto felt about the guy that Bernstein was living with.

    From the Guardian article this sounds like a teenage crush (although I know that Hashimoto was older) on someone he really did not know very well but was just awestruck about probably because of Bernstein’s accomplishments and reputation.

    If he actually had lived with Bernstein or was even a full time on site boyfriend I wonder how long it would have lasted.

    • Alviano says:

      I think it is a nice story and see no reason we should treat it as trivial and ephemeral nor dismiss it as “prurient.”

    • Terence says:

      You really have no idea, Sharon, of the respectful nature of this MUTUAL relationship that I personally observed at the time.

    • Mick the Knife says:

      that could be said about any dating relationship.

    • Stuart G. says:

      The article states that it was more than lust. They were producing partners on several projects. I’m very glad that Bernstein had this kind of happiness in his life.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Not so flash for his wife, though, during their entire so-called marriage. Felicia tolerated lots. Bernstein really was a very unpleasant man, talented though he undoubtedly was. Sometimes that isn’t enough. Not even if you’re a liberal/progressive.

        • Eric says:

          Whatever they may have felt for one another, Bernstein’s marriage to Felicia was the price he had to pay for becoming the music director of the NY Phil. The gay unmarried Mitropoulos was not discreet enough for the board of directors, so after he died they didn’t want a repeat of that situation. Mahler had to convert to Christianity in order to direct the Vienna Court Opera, an irony Bernstein was probably aware of.

  • Kolb Slaw says:

    How about leaving him to rest in peace, letting his personal life stay personal???

  • mary says:

    Much ado about nothing, hardly worth a book onto itself. At best, half a page in the next edition of Bernstein’s comprehensive biography.

    Let’s put this all in perspective. For an internationally travelling gay classical music star with a prolific sexual life, it seems that from the Guardian article, Bernstein and Hashimoto had 1 to 3 intimate times over 11 years. And the letters are decidely one sided, coming from Hashimoto. The article does not say the author has seen any of Bernstein’s letters to Hashimoto.

    In other words, how many Hashimotos did Bernstein have all over the world?

    Finally, the title “…and the Making of a World Maestro” is completely over the top, the author better have damn good evidence that Hashimoto “made” Bernstein the “world” maestro he already was.

  • anon says:

    The photo says it all.

    I always take photos of me and my lover with both hands awkwardly stuffed in my pockets, standing straight as a board.

    • sam says:

      Especially true of Bernstein, who in every youtube video is so effusively touchy-feelly that he’s hugging and kissing everyone within arm’s length, here, he’s so withdrawn … even by Japanese standards.

  • Chris says:

    So ….. Bernstein had a skeleton in his closet? SO WHAT!
    Did this ‘affair’ affect his professional life, did it impinge on his social life?
    Did it harm anyone (seriously harm them)?
    Let it die with him

  • Una says:

    Just makes for more boring reading for lifeless August in the press! I’d rather listen to Bernstein’s music and enjoy his flare as a conductor.

  • esfir ross says:

    Congratulation to my friend Mari Yoshihara for published book that got world attention

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Read Humphrey Burton’s tome on Bernstein; it is chock full of potential #metoo personalities. But, he was a liberal so avert your eyes.

  • sobriquet says:

    Simply happy for the gentleman who inspired me so very much, and I was a kid who needed his musicality to shine up the dark. forever grateful

  • Wurtfangler says:

    Before making comments, read the book (I have). It is a fascinating book about Bernstein’s relationship with Japan, told through his relationships with two people (not just Hashimoto). Bernstein’s was a complex life and the letters that form the background to this book provide another piece in the jigsaw puzzle.

    By all means criticise the article (which is poor and provides little detail on the real substance of the book – i would have expected better from the Observer) but until you have read the book you cannot make any judgment on that.

  • squagmogleur says:

    In the biography of Bernstein by Humphrey Burton, he (Bernstein) is reported as confessing, towards the end of his life, that “he had been relieved, even glad….when Felicia (his wife) died, because it gave him the freedom for which he had been longing.” The freedom referred to here was to live his life as he wanted without marital constraint which, in turn, meant freedom to fully embark on a life of promiscuous, casual homosexual sex. Whatever Kunihiko Hashimoto’s perception of his relationship with the maestro may have been ( as suggested by these letters) for Bernstein he was probably just another casual sexual encounter, as both the rather one-sided correspondence between the two suggests and Bernstein’s catalogue of similar encounters throughout his life confirms.

    • Terence says:

      It’s extraordinary reading such speculations from one who wasn’t there and knew neither of them. Perhaps the holder of Bernstein’s letters addressed to himself didn’t consign them to the US Library of Congress? Also, I refer you to my post above.

  • Nick2 says:

    What a load of sanctimonious rubbish some posters revel in writing! They were two men. They happened to
    be attracted to each other. That is all that matters. Professions, nationalities, other lovers, all the other little pieces that go into the making of a relationship are totally irrelevant. The fact that one was a world figure brings out the tittle-tattle merchants and their holier-than-thou utterances! A pox on them!

  • Liam Allan-Dalgleish says:

    I speak as a musicologist. There can be no justification for this disgusting voyeurisn. There should be a certain cutoff point for the publication of sensitive material about an individual who may be indeed dead but who is not dead enough that material such as this doesn’t do harm and embarrassment to other, living individuals. Or, living or not, affects the subjects image. I would call it the ZOMBIE RULE. Bernstein still lives. It’s not that he was gay. It’s that musicology is not gossip.it’s one thing to publish a letter from Guillaime de Machaut and another from Maynard Ferguson

    • Wurtfangler says:

      Have you read the book? Or are you basing your assumption that it is ‘disgusting voyerism’ solely on the second-hand tit-bits this journalist chose to quote in their piece?

    • Wurtfangler says:

      It should also be mentioned that Yoshihara is not a musicologist. She is a cultural historian and this is a history book that makes no claims to be anything else.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Guilliaume de Machaut?
      Maynard Ferguson?
      How the heck did they get into this conversation?