The Kennedy Center

Leonard Bernstein


Leonard Bernstein
(conductor,composer; born August 25, 1918, Lawrence, Massachusetts; died October 14, 1990)

Born in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1918, Leonard Bernstein was a conductor, composer, author and lecturer who had a dramatic impact on the popular audience’s acceptance and appreciation of classical music. He had piano lessons as a boy and furthered his education in conducting, orchestration and piano at Harvard University, the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer institute, Tanglewood.

Bernstein was appointed to his first conducting post in 1943, as Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic. On November 14, 1943, he substituted on a few hours notice for the ailing Bruno Walter at a Carnegie Hall concert, which was broadcast nationally on radio, receiving critical acclaim. Soon, orchestras worldwide sought him out as a guest conductor. He taught at Tanglewood for many years and was Music Director of the New York Philharmonic from 1958 to 1969.

Bernstein’s first large-scale work, Symphony No. 1 (1943), was first performed with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1944 and received the New York Music Critics' Award. Other major compositions by Bernstein include Symphonies No.2 and 3, "Mass: A Theater Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers," commissioned for the opening of the Kennedy Center in 1971. Ballets for which he wrote the music include "Fancy Free" (1944) and "Facsimile" (1946). He also contributed substantially to the Broadway musical stage with many productions, including "On The Town" (1944), "Wonderful Town" (1953) and "West Side Story," (1957).

He received many honors and awards including the Kennedy Center Honors (1980), the American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal (1981) and eleven Emmy Awards for televised concerts such as the "Young People's Concerts."
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