Leonard Bernstein was a very extraordinary person. He was among the first conductors to be born and educated in America. A truly inspirational man, who accomplished an astonishing amount during his career. His achievements in conducting, composing and teaching helped establish American artists in a largely dominated European field. A true creator, Bernstein was able to achieve great success in many areas of music. His compositions varied throughout his life from; symphonies, musical theatre, ballet, chorales, solo pieces and song cycles. He was a gifted teacher, using his talent to educate many millions of people through his television career, which was aided by his charismatic persona, charm, and his infectious love of all things musical. The first American born and raised conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein was an international star, guest conducting for the Vienna Phil., London SO and Bavarian RSO to name a few. His contribution to American music is a colossal achievement, and he has left behind him a catalogue of work that will be loved, listened, studied and inspire others for generations to come.
Born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, USA, on August 25th 1918. Bernstein was a celebrity in post world war II New York, and around the world. Conductor, composer, pianist, author, educator, Bernstein was truly an all round musical talent. Bernstein did not come from a musical family, his father was a successful business man, supplying beauty and barber shop supplies. He first developed an interest in music when his aunt’s piano was brought into the Bernstein family home. Bernstein played the piano by ear before his first noted piano teacher and later assistant Helen Coates began to teach him after Bernstein approached her then boss which she was assistant to, Heinrich Gebhard who was one of Boston’s most influential teachers and pianists. His family accepted there sons flare for music and embraced it even though it was looked on as an uncertain career. Bernstein had one of his first performances playing an advert for his fathers company on a local radio show. Educated in the prestigious Boston Latin school before going to Harvard University to obtain his undergraduate and then moved onto the Curtis Institute were he studied further in conducting with Fritz Reiner, sight reading and transposition with Renée Longy-Miquelle and piano with Isabella Vengerova.
Many people grew to love Bernstein through his “Young People’s Concert” series which graced the screens for fourteen years 1958-1972. This had a huge impact on American musical life. His series gained him critical acclaim in the television world winning Edison, Emmy, Peabody and Sylvania awards. Bernstein’s personality, good looks, and love for music made this show the success it was, successful in the sense that it not only won awards and had a strong viewership weekly, but Bernstein successfully changed a generations opinion on classical music, inspiring children and adults to actively listen to composers such as Mahler and Beethoven. The “Young People’s Concert” series planted a seed, a seed that would never have been planted if it were not for the charismatic presenter Bernstein, which inspired many young Americans to pursue the study of music. Bernstein worked as a teacher of conducting at Tanglewood for close to forty years. He was a university lecturer at Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts in the 1950s and served as the school head for the creative arts for a short time.
As mentioned previously Bernstein was one of the first American-born, raised and educated conductors that reached international fame and success. His debut in 1943, aged only 25, was partly due to luck, misfortune, and belief. Luck came into play as the guest conductor Bruno Walter became ill, misfortune that Walter became ill because he was the student of Gustav Mahler who Bernstein had been excited to see, and then the belief of Rodzinski who hired Bernstein and gave...
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