Repertory Archive

Leonard Bernstein


Leonard Bernstein was the first American musician to achieve worldwide recognition; known as a conductor, composer, pianist, author and teacher. He 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.

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 November the same year he made front-page headlines by replacing an ailing Bruno Walter in a national radio broadcast at the tender age of 25.

In the years following, Bernstein served as Music Director of the New York City Symphony, as head of the conducting faculty at the Berkshire Music Center (Tanglewood) and as 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 musical theater he wrote On the Town, Wonderful Town, Candide, West Side Story and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. His Mass, a theater piece for singers, players and dancers, opened the Kennedy Center in 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. He died in 1990, leaving behind a musical legacy virtually unparalleled.