Leonard Bernstein was an American composer, conductor and pianist. For much of his career, he served as a music director for the prestigious New York Philharmonic. He was also highly successful as a composer, having written the scores for Peter Pan, West Side Story, and Wonderful Town.
Leonard Bernstein was born on August 25, 1918 as Louis Bernstein in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Due to the insistence of his parents, Louis had his name changed to Leonard at the age of fifteen. Bernstein was introduced to the world of classical music by his brother, who often took him to listen to different orchestras, thus, the young Bernstein started taking piano lessons at the onset of his teenage years. Bernstein then started studying music with Edward Burlingame Hill and Walter Piston at the Harvard University in 1935. He then started attending the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia upon graduation from Harvard, where he studied conducting in great detail from the legendary Fritz Reiner. It was said that Reiner was so happy with Bernstein that the only ‘A’ grade he awarded in his career was to Bernstein.
In 1940, Bernstein attended the Boston Symphony Orchestra Summer Institute upon the recommendation of Aaron Copland. However, it was be in 1943 that the young Bernstein rocketed to fame. While he was serving as an Assistant Conductor to the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein had to conduct the orchestra without any rehearsal or former notice after the main guest conductor, Bruno Walter, called in sick. The program, which was internationally broadcasted, included the works of Franz Schubert, Richard Wagner and Miklos Rozsa, and it shot Bernstein to prominence. The result of this was that in 1945, Bernstein was appointed the Music Director of the New York City Symphony Orchestra. He also embarked upon an international conducting career; for he conducted as far as London and even Tel Aviv.
Between 1951 and 1958, Bernstein mostly served as a guest conductor for many orchestras. He is credited with conducting the premieres of Charles Ives’s Symphony No.2, the American Premiere of Tanglewood, and the world premiere of Olivier Messiaen’s “Turrangalila-Symphonie”. In 1957, Bernstein was made music director of the legendary New York Philharmonic, with which he went on to tour to Europe and the Soviet Union. Bernstein continued as music director for the New York Philharmonic till 1969, after which he served the philharmonic as a laureate conductor.
Bernstein also put together a series of television shows which were known as the “Young People’s Concerts for CBS”, which was a fifty three episode educational series. The episodes were so successful that they were even premiered in foreign languages.
Bernstein was also highly renowned for his compositions. His 1957 musical “West Side Story” was a Broadway classic which ran for more than seven hundred performances at the famous Winter Garden Theatre at its first running. It also ran at the famous London West End Theatres for a total of one thousand and thirty nine performances. His other broadway productions included an adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, and Joseph A. Fields’s Wonderful Town, among others.
Leonard Bernstein died on October 14, 1990, five days after he announced his retirement from conducting. He was seventy two at the time.