Leonard Bernstein was a musician of unparalleled versatility. In a career that spanned five decades, he achieved worldwide renown as a conductor, composer, pianist and educator.
Born in Massachusetts, Bernstein graduated from Harvard University in 1939 and continued his studies at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. He spent summers at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass., seasonal home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and location of the country’s foremost musical festival.
Bernstein was named assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic in August 1943, his first permanent conducting post. On Nov. 14 of that year, he earned critical acclaim when he substituted for the ailing Bruno Walter at a Carnegie Music Hall concert broadcast live on the radio. For the next 15 years, Bernstein conducted some of the most famous orchestras in the world. While his conducting repertoire encompassed the standards, he is perhaps best remembered for his performances and recordings of Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Sibelius and Mahler.
In 1958, Bernstein became music director of the New York Philharmonic. That same year, he began his legendary televised Young People’s Concerts, which are still regarded as groundbreaking educational works.
“He loved to educate, to learn himself and pass it on,” said friend and colleague Humphrey Burton, a noted British television director. His master classes at Tanglewood’s music center — where he taught every summer for 50 years — were legendary. In 1982, Bernstein founded the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute. He also helped to create a world-class training orchestra at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival. Bernstein founded the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan. This international festival, modeled after Tanglewood, was the first of its kind in Asia and continues to this day.
A prolific composer, Bernstein created an extraordinarily diverse body of work ranging from symphonies to operas to musical theater to film. His compositions included three symphonies (“Jeremiah,” “The Age of Anxiety” and “Kaddish”), the “Serenade” for violin and string orchestra, “Chichester Psalms” for orchestra and chorus, three ballets, and the score for the film “On the Waterfront.” For the Broadway theater, he wrote “Candide” and the musicals “On the Town” and “West Side Story.”
MASS was commissioned in 1971 for the dedication of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.