The Columns

Timothy Gaylard’s “Leonard Bernstein: An Overview of the Life and Career” Alumni College 2016

— by on October 31st, 2016

One would be challenged to name a more versatile and talented American musician than Leonard Bernstein. He excelled in all areas of music-as a conductor, composer, performer, and educator. From the moment in 1943 when, at the age of 25, he filled in as a last minute replacement for Bruno Walter, conducting the New York Philharmonic for a live radio broadcast, he established himself as one of the most talented musicians of a new generation. Eventually he would become the first American-born conductor of that illustrious orchestra, a relationship that would continue for the rest of his life. He was responsible for introducing audiences to repertoire that had long been ignored, especially the challenging works of Charles Ives and the mammoth symphonies of Gustav Mahler. Bernstein was an inspiring conductor who drew out the best from his fellow musicians. He was also a talented pianist who often played concertos with the orchestras he was conducting. Invited to conduct all of the greatest orchestras in the world, the most memorable assignment was the performance on Christmas Day in 1989 when he led an international assemblage of musicians in Beethoven’s Ninth to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall.As a composer, Bernstein revealed his incredible versatility by writing classical works for orchestra, chorus, piano solo, and chamber ensembles. But he is probably best remembered for his Broadway musicals, bringing a classical sensibility and craft to an essentially popular art form. With its driving rhythmic energy, melodic appeal, and colorful but accessible harmonies and textures, Bernstein’s style was distinctively American.

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