Leonard Bernstein was one of the most influential classical musicians of the last century: a dynamic teacher, brilliant conductor, fine composer, and accomplished pianist. America's de facto ambassador to the world, he was a man of near-universal appeal, exuding passion from every part of his being.
Always a determinedly colorful character, obviously attracted by the limelight, Leonard Bernstein had a talent for wowing young fans with his flamboyant style and flair for pedagogy. His creative gifts knew few bounds, as he moved easily between podium, piano and television screen. Through seminars at Brandeis University and teaching at Tanglewood, Bernstein quickly won renown as an educator. He fascinated an even larger audience of young listeners on television shows like Omnibus and Young People’s Concerts. Indeed, no other musician had ever captivated such a broad spectrum of the American public as Bernstein did with these shows.
His appearances as a conductor had an incredible emotional impact, often bringing about an excitement approaching frenzy. His fresh musical interpretations—rooted in a commitment to the composer and to a work’s individual context and narrative—were an incredible boon for classical music, reviving interest in particular in the music of Gustav Mahler.
Bernstein became one of the first world-famous American-born conductors, he was also one of the first world-famous American composers. His works skillfully blurred the line between popular and art music, breaking down old barriers to produce masterfully-written, highly accessible classical music. His best-known works included the musicals On the Town, Wonderful Town, Candide and West Side Story, written in collaboration with Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Robbins. Some of his more personally thought-provoking music included religious-themed works like the Mass or the Chicester Psalms, in which we see him struggling with his Jewish heritage and universal questions of faith.
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