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Bernstein, Leonard (1918-1990)

Leonard Bernstein

born: 25 August 1918
died: 14 October 1990
country: USA

Bernstein was a gifted scholar, taking his first piano lessons at the age of ten and continuing to study the instrument when he enrolled at Harvard University in 1935. From 1939 to 1941 he pursued graduate studies at the Curtis Institute, emerging as a star pupil in Fritz Reiner’s conducting class. Bernstein made front-page news on 13 November 1943 when he deputised for Bruno Walter as conductor of the New York Philharmonic, achieving instant critical success and breaking the mould by being the first person to give a public performance with that orchestra wearing a grey lounge suit. His progress as a conductor was rapid, and in 1958 he was appointed Music Director and Chief Conductor of the New York Philharmonic.

In the same year he launched a series of televised children’s concerts. Bernstein was also active as a writer and regular broadcaster, although he managed to find time to create a large output of works. It could be reasonably argued that his work as a composer, performer and educator has had a greater influence on current trends in contemporary music than, for example, the avant-garde compositions of Stockhausen or Boulez. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Bernstein kept faith with the aesthetic ideals and artistic concerns of composers from an earlier age, reaching audiences with powerful, often dramatic, scores, and crafting memorable, heart-on-sleeve melodies.

He posed music that was approachable without being banal, sentimental without being mawkish. Above all, he knew how to write a good tune.

from notes by Andrew Stewart © 2018


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