LEONARD BERNSTEIN August 25, 1918, Lawrence MA – October 14, 1990, NYC.
Bernstein attended the Garrison Grammar School and Boston Latin School before moving on to Harvard and The Curtis Institute. During summers, he studied conducting with Serge Koussevitzky at Tanglewood. Bernstein moved to New York City, living in Greenwich Village, taking on odd jobs for arranging and transcribing music.
On November 14, 1943, having just been appointed assistant conductor to Artur Rodziński of the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein made his major conducting debut at short notice—and no rehearsal, when guest conductor, Bruno Walter was suddenly taken ill. Bernstein took command of the demanding program to the astonishment of everyone. The next day, The New York Times carried the story on its front page, and Bernstein’s career and fame would only grow.
“Lenny,” as everyone called him, wrote symphonies, ballet and film scores, choral works, opera, chamber music, and solo piano pieces. But the works that most continue to endure are his musical theater shows: On The Town, Wonderful Town, Candide, and above all, West Side Story.
Having been brought up in the Jewish faith, it’s perhaps no surprise that one of his major works, his Third Symphony, is entitled Kaddish, which is the name of the prayer chanted for the dead on memorial occasions. What is surprising is that he also wrote a major theater work, MASS, which was based on a variation of the service of the Roman Catholic Church. It was written for the opening of the Kennedy Center in 1971.
Bernstein was the first American-born conductor to lead an American orchestra.
He was music director of the New York Philharmonic and conducted all of the world’s major orchestras.
He was also a critical figure in the modern revival of the music of Gustav Mahler.
Bernstein became a notable public figure through dozens of national and international television broadcasts, and was awarded the Emmy for his Young People’s Concerts. He took his adopted role as a music educator very seriously, and lectured at Harvard.
Peter Jennings summarized his life on ABC the day after Bernstein’s passing.