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Sunday, 14 October 2012

Leonard Bernstein, composer and conductor

b. August 25, 1918
d. October 14, 1990
This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.

After receiving his undergraduate education at Harvard University, Leonard Bernstein, who fell in love with music as a young boy, attended the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Studying under famous international conductor Fritz Reiner, Bernstein received the only "A" Reiner ever awarded.
After Bernstein distinguished himself at Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's Summer Institute, the New York Philharmonic named him assistant conductor. He was thrust into the limelight when he substituted for the lead conductor. The nationally broadcast show earned him instant recognition and helped launch his career.

Bernstein's first major work, Symphony No. 1, "Jeremiah" (1943), received New York Music Critics' Circle acclaim as the best new American orchestral work of 1943-1944. In 1956 and 1957, Bernstein composed "Candide" and "West Side Story," respectively.

Named Music Director in 1957, Bernstein led the New York Philharmonic from 1958-1969. While with the Philharmonic he worked on CBS's "Young People's Concert Series." CBS ran 53 segments of this series from 1958 to 1972. It remains the longest running set of classical music programs on commercial television.
An avid proponent of world peace, Bernstein toured Athens and Hiroshima during a 1985 "Journey for Peace" tour commemorating the victims of World War II. Celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Bernstein conducted a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in East Berlin on Christmas Day. He reworded "Ode to Joy" as "Ode to Freedom."

In addition to performing his own works, Bernstein masterfully conducted works of Beethoven, Gustav Mahler, Aaron Copland, Johannes Brahms, Dmitri Shostakovich and George Gershwin. Besides musicals and compositions, he wrote two operas, "Trouble in Tahiti" and "A Quiet Place," and the film score for "On the Waterfront" (1954).

Numerous European cities, including Oslo and Vienna, have honored Bernstein with keys to the city. The London Symphony Orchestra named him Honorary President in 1987. Named Laureate Conductor of the Israel Philharmonic in 1988, Bernstein was Laureate Conductor of the New York Philharmonic until his death.

Bernstein was a married man, and a devoted husband and father. He was also undoubtedly gay (not bisexual), but for much of his life, closeted. He was a product of his deeply homophobic time, and even went so far as to go through a period of psychotherapy in an attempt to cure his "inversion". 

His sexual attraction to males began early, however with affairs while still at university with conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos and then with Aaron Copland. There were nunerous other sexual encounters and longer relationships with men, both before and during his marriage, until in 1973 he met and fell in love with a much younger man, Tom Cothran, and moved into an apartment with him.

He was later reconciled with his wife and returned to her, but continued a relationship with Cothran, until the latter died (of AIDS). 

After Felicia Bernstein died of cancer in 1978, Bernstein became more open about his sexuality, and surrounded himself with beautiful young boys until his own death in 1990.


Selected Works


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