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Leonard Bernstein


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Lawrence MA, United States (1918 – 1990)

Leonard Bernstein, a unique source of creative energy in America’s music throughout his entire adult lifetime, was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on August 25, 1918.

He was given piano lessons as a boy and had his pre-college education at the Garrison and Boston Latin schools. Going on to Harvard University, he worked with Walter Piston, Edward Burlingame Hill, and A. Tillman Merritt, among others. By the time of his graduation, in 1939, he had made an unofficial conducting debut (his own incidental music to The Birds), and directed and performed in Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock. Later, at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, he studied piano with Isabella Vengerova, conducting with Fritz Reiner, and composition with Randall Thompson.

In 1949 he became a student of the Boston Symphony’s reigning conductor, Serge Koussevitzky, at Tanglewood, and he was subsequently named his conducting assistant.

Bernstein’s first permanent conducting post, however, was as Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, to which he was named in 1943. That was an important year for him both as a composer and as a conductor. Not only did he win the New York Music Critic’ Award for his first symphony, Jeremiah, but he also made his sudden and now famous debut with the Philharmonic, substituting on just a few hours’ notice for the indisposed Bruno Walter at a concert at Carnegie Hall. He won extraordinary praise, and was soon being sought as guest conductor by leading orchestras all over the world.


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