Jeremy Irons Reads ‘Life is Juicy’ by Leonard Bernstein

WGBH’s has just released an exclusive audio recording of Leonard Bernstein’s poem “Life is Juicy,” as read by actor Jeremy Irons.

Click on the player below to hear actor Jeremy Irons read “Life is Juicy,” by Leonard Bernstein:

Audio of Jeremy Irons recorded by Mark Travis, engineer, New York Philharmonic. Special thanks to Jamie Bernstein, author of Famous Father Girl, and Barbara Haws, the New York Philharmonic archivist. 


Photo via Mark Travis

Life is Juicy

(Written in a cottage
on the mucky shore of
Lake Mah-kee-nak
Stockbridge, Massachusetts
2 July 1947)

Life begins in the waters—
Not the deep, but the borders of land:
The stagnants that nourish the sterile earth
Like a juicy gland.

Life is the seed of the marriage
Of liquid and solid events.
In the coves, in the swamps, in mysterious pools,
Our heartaches commence.

Life is the pulp and the slime,
The marshmallow bellies of frogs,
Their thyroided eyes, their eggjellies caught
On the rotting logs.

Life is the algae, the roe;
The army of maggoty breeds
Devouring the corpse of a very old perch
Adrift in the weeds.

Life is the plasm, the cells,
The fat symbiotics in pairs;
The ankledeep fungoids which darkly provide
The crawfish with lairs.

Life is the scaly and scummy,
The poisonous green without breath;
The marinal maze whose only solution
Is ultimate death.

For Death is the crisp and the clean,
The fine oxidation, the rust,
The spermless, the painless, the classic, the lean,
The dry, dry dust.



Leonard Bernstein photo by Paul de Hueck courtesy of the Leonard Bernstein Office will release several approximately 20 poems by the legendary musician including some never before seen Bernstein poems. A Bernstein poem read by actress Laila Robbins will be released next week.

WGBH launched The Bernstein Experience on this year as part of a year-long celebration of the music, life and legacy of the conductor, composer, educator, and humanitarian who would celebrate his 100th birthday on August 25, 2018. 

Bernstein’s poem celebrates bucolic summers at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Hear actor Jeremy Irons read “Life is Juicy,” by Leonard Bernstein on The Bernstein Experience on

To learn more about the life of Leonard Bernstein and the scope the Bernstein at 100 celebration, please visit:

Jeremy Irons Performs with The New York Philharmonic

The New York Philharmonic’s three-week Bernstein’s Philharmonic: A Centennial Festival, saluting their beloved Laureate Conductor Leonard Bernstein, took place in November 2017.  Jeremy Irons narrated Bernstein’s Kaddish Symphony at concerts on November 9, 11, 14 and 19.  The first three concerts took place at David Geffen Hall in New York City.  The November 19th concert took place at Hill Auditorium on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  All four concerts were conducted by Leonard Slatkin and featured Soprano Tamara Wilson.

Click on the player below to listen to the performance from 19 November at The University of Michigan, recorded live by Interlochen Public Radio:



Review: Son Confronts Father to End a Leonard Bernstein Festival – The New York Times

The Best Classical Music Performances of 2017 – The New York Times


Click on the thumbnails below for larger images:

Jeremy Irons to Perform with New York Philharmonic

On November 9, 11, and 14, 2017, Leonard Slatkin conducts Bernstein’s Symphony No. 3, Kaddish – with Jeremy Irons as speaker, soprano TaMara Wilson in her Philharmonic debut, Concert Chorale of New York directed by James Bagwell, and Brooklyn Youth Chorus directed by Dianne Berkun Menaker – and Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote, featuring Principal Viola Cynthia Phelps and Principal Cello Carter Brey.

Jeremy will also travel with the New York Philharmonic to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for a performance on Sunday 19 November.

Click here for more information and to book tickets.

These performances of the Kaddish Symphony will feature Jeremy Irons reciting the 1977 revised version of Bernstein’s text, in which he made it possible for the speaker to be either a woman or a man.

Bernstein dedicated his Symphony No. 3, Kaddish, to the memory of President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated less than three weeks before the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra premiered the work in December 1963. In the Jewish liturgy, Kaddish is used as a prayer for mourners, although it never explicitly mentions death. The structure and content of the Kaddish Symphony reflect Bernstein’s complex relationship with religion and his nuanced reflections on faith and mortality. He led the New York Philharmonic in The New York Premiere of the work in April 1964.

Click here for more information and to book tickets.

Jeremy Irons delivers a ‘sharp dramatic reading’ for the NY Philharmonic

Three More Stravinsky Faces


New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center
04/28/2010 – & April 29, 2010
Igor Stravinsky: Zvezdolikiy (Le Roi des Etoiles or Star-Face – Violin Concerto in D – Œdipus Rex

Leonidas Kavakos (Violin), Waltraud Meier (Mezzo-Soprano), Anthony Dean Griffey, Alexander Timchenko (Tenors), Ilya Bannik, Mikhail Petrenko (Basses), Jeremy Irons (Narrator)
Chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre, Andrei Petrenko (Principal Chorus Master), New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Valery Gergiev (Conductor)

Nobody would be surprised if the Avery Fisher Hall concert stage was to collapse one of these nights. In bringing forth–like Venus from the Waves–more than a dozen Stravinsky works these weeks, Valery Gergiev has not gone easy on the forces at his command. Of course the Mariinsky Choir, the complete New York Philharmonic (which seemed to be expanded), soloists a-plenty, percussion to the rooftops, four pianos…

The audience itself has been pretty well filled as well. Probably half last night came to hear Jeremy Irons as the narrator in Œdipus, some came for the Violin Concerto. A rare few were anxious to hear the one piece of Stravinsky almost never played, Star-Face (not to be confused with Brian de Palma’s Scarface. Why did it have to wait three decades before its first performance? Why did its dedicatee, Claude Debussy, say that this “music for the planet…would be lost in the abyss if performed on earth?”

More important, why was this the first performance I can ever remember in New York?

Part is practicality. It’s only 53 measures, lasts less than seven minutes, and needs an explosively good orchestra and chorus. Partly because the words by Konstantin Balmont are, at least in English, mystical, garish, resembling a Byzantine painting from the End of the World.

Still, this was fascinating music erupting from the composer, just prior to Rite of Spring. The latter was pagan and primitive. Star-Face engenders the heavy incense and dark candles of Ivan IV’s Russian Orthodox Church. If the choral sounds are both dissonant and religious at the same time, they also resemble those rare Russian Orthodox chants prior to the 18th Century, before Russia “discovered” Europe. Those incantations too were characterized by medieval scales, by tones next to each other, edging each other out. No orchestra was used, of course, but Stravinsky’s huge orchestra here was singular, actually echoing a huge organ. Not the blurred orchestral organ of a Saint-Saëns or a Bruckner, but a cathedral organ with all the stops pulled out.

The Mariinsky chorus again proved that they have a volume and precision under Gergiev which is rare even in New York choruses, while the New York Phil themselves pulled out all the stops.

What the following “classical period” Violin Concerto lacks in musical audacity, it possesses in jollity. The opening is less toccata than circus music, the ending is pure Russian, and the middle is not very memorable, still-born slow movement.

The Greek violinist, Leonidas Kavakos, bears the name of the great Spartan king, and Mr. Kavakos himself played with laconic pleasure. One could say the reading was effortless, taking the difficult treble-stringing as easily as the jumpy end. I doubt if many soloists can give the Stravinsky much gravitas, but he tried.

Gravitas, though, was the word for Œdipus Rex. It is one of the most powerful, dramatic, emotional operas (yes, an opera!!) ever written by Stravinsky. Given a choice of Rake’s Progress or Œdipus, anybody in their right mind would prefer this gorgeous hodgepodge more than W.H. Auden’s all too perfect Rake.

Linguistically, it’s a hodgepodge. The libretto is a Latin translation of a French drama taken from an English translation of the original Greek. The narration is in English (much against Stravinsky’s original desires), and this English translation of Jean Cocteau’s French was written by none other than the poet E.E. Cummings.

As an opera, Œdipus probably has its shortcomings, since most of the characters are static. But my heavens!! Under Gergiev’s direction, with a sharp dramatic reading by Jeremy Irons, this was a work with greater dramatic sharpness than Stravinsky could ever imagine.

We listened, horrified, as Anthony Dean Griffey sung out, with an Irish tenor resonance, his oath to find the man causing the plague. In Jocasta’s aria, Stravinsky produced an aria which could have come from Trovatore, including the choral harmonies. The ending, with Mr. Irons gritting his teeth as the murderer is found, was almost shocking.

The other works last night (and tonight) are questionable, problematic. But Œdipus, like the opening night’s Noces, is amongst the most powerful stage works of the 20th Century, And Valery Gergiev gave it all the intensity it deserved.

Harry Rolnick

Jeremy Irons to narrate NY Philharmonic event!

Full details on Jeremy’s appearances with the New York Philharmonic


Wednesday, April 28, 2010, at 7:30 p.m., and Thursday, April 29, at 7:30 p.m.

The second program, on Friday, April 30, 2010, at 8:00 p.m., and Saturday, May 1, at 8:00 p.m.

Avery Fisher Hall
10 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY 10023
(212) 875-5656

Valery Gergiev, Conductor
Jeremy Irons, Narrator
Waltraud Meier, Mezzo-Soprano (Jocasta)
Anthony Dean Griffey, Tenor (Oedipus)
Mikhail Petrenko, Bass (Tieresias)
Alexie Tanovitski, Bass (Creon)
Alexander Timchenko, Tenor (A Shepherd)
Mariinsky Theatre Chorus


World-renowned Valery Gergiev, arguably the most exciting interpreter of Stravinsky’s music, leads this all-Stravinsky program.

This evening’s concert features the stories of two great myths: Orpheus, a lush and highly descriptive score portraying a distraught musician who seeks his beloved Eurydice in the underworld; and Oedipus Rex, a powerful opera-oratorio which utilizes vocal soloists, a large chorus and orchestra.

Actor Jeremy Irons will be the narrator for Oedipus Rex!