Sun 22 Apr 2007
Composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein was born on August 25, 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, U.S.A. He attended Harvard University, the Curtis Institute of Music, and the Tanglewood Institute. His teachers included Walter Piston, Fritz Reiner,
Randall Thompson, and the conductor of the Boston Symphony, Serge Koussevitzky.
He later became Koussevitzky’s conducting assistant.
In 1943, he took a position as an assistant conductor at the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. It was there, on November 14th of the same year, that he famously substituted for Bruno Walter at short notice for a concert at Carnegie Hall. This concert was heard on national radio broadcast and garnered Bernstein great recognition. Bernstein accepted the position of Music Director for the New York Symphony Orchestra in 1945.
In 1951 he took charge of the conducting and orchestral departments at Tanglewood, and in 1958, he became the Music Director for the New York Philharmonic. He was in high demand for conducting appearances around the world and had the opportunity to conduct Maria Callas at the Teatro Alla Scala, becoming the first American to conduct at that theater.
Bernstein is also remembered for his compositions. His work was prolific and wide-ranging including everything from songs for voice and piano and musicals such as West Side Story, to full-scale orchestral works, including symphonies. His music is still regularly programmed worldwide. In addition, he regularly performed as a piano soloist in his early career and championed the works of other American composers, notably Aaron Copland. His reputation as an educator was legendary, with his well-known masterclasses, and a series of “Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts” that influenced generations of musicians and other young people. Among his many awards were a Tony Award for Distinguished Achievement in Theater, the National Fellowship, and the Praemium Imperiale for lifetime achievement in the arts. He died of a heart attack on October 14, 1990.