Leonard Bernstein composed Divertimento for the Boston Symphony Orchestra's centenary in 1980, dedicating the piece, "With affection to the Boston Symphony Orchestra in celebration of its First Centenary." The piece enjoyed its premiere under Seiji Ozawa on September 15, 1980. Divertimento was composed with great affection for the organization and the city of Boston. Bernstein was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts outside the city and grew up in the Boston area, he was a graduate of Harvard University and The Boston Latin School. He had been a student at the Boston Symphony's summer institute at Tanglewood in 1940 and had also served as conducting assistant to Serge Koussevitsky at the Berkshire Music Center. Bernstein’s final public appearance was a performance of the Boston Symphony which he led at Tanglewood in August 1990.
The piece is a series of dances based on the notes B for Boston and C for Centennial. The work is light-hearted, high-spirited, and pert, full of allusions and jests with orchestra members. Throughout, Divertimento contains allusions to the repertoire that influenced Bernstein as a young composer and the final march honours the conductors and orchestra members who passed during his tenure. Additionally, Bernstein’s highlighting of the various sections is in many cases based on Bernstein’s personal relationship with the musicians. When he wrote a solo for a particular instrument he wrote for a musician whom he knew personally and whose personal traits he often had in mind.
Alixandra Porembski, English Language Annotator