A Plea for Peace: Leonard Bernstein, Richard Nixon, and the Music of the 1973 Inauguration

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Music and poetry were powerful headliners at the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris signaling change and new beginnings. This was not the first time the arts have reflected the mood of the country and a new administration.

In January 1973, following the Christmas bombing of Vietnam, conductor Leonard Bernstein gathered an impromptu orchestra to perform an “anti-inaugural concert” protesting Richard Nixon’s official inaugural concert and his escalation of the war in Vietnam. One of the main performances of the official inaugural was the 1812 Overture with its booming drums replicating the sound of war cannons.

In 1973, the United States was reaching the concluding stages of our involvement in Vietnam. And while the war would soon come to an end, the weeks leading up to the second inauguration of Richard Nixon were met with some of the most intense and deadly bombing campaigns of the war.

The anti-war movement was unhinged. They had marched, they protested — to seemingly no avail when it came to changing Nixon’s foreign policies. So what to do next…

Leonard Bernstein gathered an impromptu orchestra for an “anti-inaugural concert”— a concert for peace—following his belief that by creating beauty, and by sharing it with as many people as possible, artists had the power to tip the earthly balance in favor of brotherhood and peace.

This story was produced by Brandi Howell with special thanks to Michael Chikinda, Alicia Kopfstein, Matt Holsen, and Bernie Swain. Find more of Brandi’s stories at: theechochamberpodcast.com