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Bernstein, Leonard

Bernstein, Leonard

Born in 1918


Inducted in 1998

Leonard Bernstein’s interest in music began at the age of ten, when his parents, both Russian Jewish immigrants, acquired an upright piano. He began taking piano lessons from a neighbor then went on to study successively with a member of the New England Conservatory faculty, with Helen Coates, and with Heinrich Gebhard, Boston’s foremost piano teacher. Bernstein entered Harvard University in 1935. He studied music theory with A. Tillman Merritt, counterpoint and fugue with Walter Piston, and orchestration with Edward Burlingame Hill. As an undergraduate he composed incidental music. Following his graduation in 1939, he went to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. The summers of 1940 and 1941 found Bernstein at Tanglewood, studying with Serge Koussevitzky, who made him his assistant in 1942. . Bernstein’s legendary orchestral career began in 1943, when Artur Rodzinski appointed him assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic. On November 14 of that year he stepped in on short notice for the indisposed Bruno Walter in a Carnegie Hall concert that was broadcast nationally, and the next morning he was on front pages across America. In 1945 Bernstein appeared as guest conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony and Boston Symphony orchestras, among others, and in the latter year succeeded Leopold Stokowski as music director of the New York City Symphony Orchestra. Bernstein held that position till 1947, conducting mostly 20th century works. In 1958 Bernstein became the first American born music director of the New York Philharmonic. Within the first few years of his tenure he took the orchestra on tours of Latin America, Russia, Europe, the Near East, Japan, Alaska and Canada. Bernstein’s composing career was launched with the publication of his Clarinet Sonata in 1942. In 1953 Bernstein became the first American to conduct a regular opera performance at La Scala. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in Verdi’s Falstaff in 1964, and two years later chose the same work for his debut with the Vienna State Operato which he returned to conduct Fidello for the Beethoven bicentenary in 1970. He celebrated his own 70th birthday at Tanglewood in August 1988, and at the end of the following year conducted a huge multinational orchestra in performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on both sides of the Berlin Wall as it was being dismantled, an event celebrated around the world.


Listen to Bernstein, Leonard

"Overture to Candide"

Performer: New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein (conductor)
Courtesy Of: Sony Classical