Leonard Bernstein

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About Leonard Bernstein

One of the most prodigiously gifted musicians in American history, Leonard Bernstein was a popularizing presence across many disciplines: orchestral music, Broadway musicals, ballet, film, and television. Born in 1918 in Lawrence, Mass., he studied composition at Harvard University and conducting at the Curtis Institute of Music and the Tanglewood Music Center. Early on, it seemed as though the concert podium would take priority. In 1943, Bernstein was summoned, without rehearsal, to fill in for an ailing Bruno Walter at the New York Philharmonic, effectively launching his global conducting career. Yet before long, he was being touted as the potential savior of the American musical, embarking on scores for On the Town (1944), Wonderful Town (1953), Candide (1956), and the future juggernaut West Side Story (1957). Bernstein explored religious and philosophical themes in his symphonic and choral music, notably the Symphony No. 3 “Kaddish” (1963), the jazzy Chichester Psalms (1965), and the freewheeling Mass (1971). Bernstein’s role as music director of the New York Philharmonic (1958-69) provided the biggest platform for his communicative talents: he championed works by Mahler and Sibelius and starred in the Philharmonic's televised Young People’s Concerts. A complicated figure offstage, Bernstein was idealistic to the core, and when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, he conducted two performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (1824) in East and West Berlin. He died in 1990.

Lawrence, MA, United States
August 25, 1918
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