Leonard Bernstein was the first American musician to achieve world-wide recognition; known as a conductor, composer, pianist, author and teacher.
Affectionately known to his friends, family and fans as Lenny, Bernstein was born Louis Bernstein in Lawrence, Massachusetts on August 25th 1918. From an early age he was known as Leonard and changed his name officially to this at age sixteen. He grew up in Boston and studied at the Boston Latin School. After graduating from Harvard in 1939 he continued his studies at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia including conducting with Fritz Reiner. With various musical avenues open to Lenny he chose Curtis,with encouragement from Dimitri Mitropoulos and Aaron Copland .
Bernstein's summers were spent studying with and as the assistant of Serge Koussevitsky at Tanglewood before being hired in 1943 as Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic by Artur Rodzinski.. In 19th November the same year he made front page headlines by replacing Bruno Walter in a national radio broadcast at the tender age of 25. Lenny only discovered in the morning during a visit to Walter's sick bed, that he was to conduct that same afternoon.
In the years following, Bernstein served as Music Director of the New York City Symphony, was head of the conducting faculty at the Berkshire Music Center (Tanglewood) and professor of Music at Brandeis University. He conducted most of the world's major orchestras and was the first American to conduct at the Teatro Alla Scala (La Scala) in Milan during the regular season.
As a composer, Bernstein created works over a wide range of forms and styles : three symphonies (Jeremiah, Age of Anxiety and Kaddish), the Serenade for Violin and Orchestra, Chichester Psalms for Orchestra and Chorus, three ballets (Fancy Free, Facsimile and Dybbuk), the operas Trouble in Tahiti and A Quiet Place. For the Theatre he wrote On the Town, Wonderful Town, Candide, West Side Story and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Mass, a theatre piece for singers, players and dancers opened the Kennedy Center is Washington D.C. in 1971. Other later compositions included Divertimento for Orchestra, Halil, Songfest, Jubilee Games and Arias and Barcarolles. In 1982 the NewYork City Opera presented the opera house version of Candide which was brought in a 'final' updated form to Scottish Opera by John Mauceri in 1988, the year of Bernstein's 70th birthday. Festivals of Bernstein's work have been presented throughout the world and his theatre works are almost constantly playing.
As a musical educator, Lenny was unparalleled. Through his television shows like Omnibus and Young People's Concerts he brought an appreciation of music to whole generations.
Bernstein craved critical success for his 'serious' works but only towards the end of his life did he start receiving critical acclaim for these non-theatre works; he mostly always produced tonal pieces, flying in the face of the 20th century critical establishment. It's mostly his theatre works which remain his biggest critical successes. Even these successes were achieved in the face of opposition from some of his musical mentors.
Bernstein was always very socially aware. However in the paranoid years following WWII such beliefs could generate very unwelcome trouble. In 1950 Bernstein was listed in a right-wing pamphlet called Red Channels targetted at 'subversives' in the 'entertainment' industry. Subsequent black-listing forced the likes of Larry Adler and Joseph Losey abroad. In reality Bernstein wasn't blacklisted and continued to work, including for Hollywood. Other very notable listees included Marc Blitzstein, Aaron Copland, Lillian Hellman, Arthur Miller, Dorothy Parker and Dashiell Hammet.
In later years Bernstein's probable mis-guided support for members of the Black Panther movement inspired Tom Wolfe's famous 'Radical Chic' expression.
In 1951 Bernstein married actress and author Felicia Montealegre, fathering three children, Jamie, Alexander and Nina. Felicia died in 1978.
In 1990 Bernstein was ordered to retire from conducting by his physicians, only to retire from the world a short time later. Bernstein left behind quite an unparalleled modern musical legacy.
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