Bernstein at 100: “West Side Story”

Tomorrow marks the centennial of the birth of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990). As a conductor, Bernstein brought a distinctive, youthful dynamism to the podium, producing performances which sizzled with “edge-of-your-seat” energy. He championed adventurous new American works during his tenure as music director of the New York Philharmonic (from 1958 to 1969), and sparked a revival of interest in the music of Gustav Mahler. As a composer, he synthesized a variety of musical styles, from …

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Bernstein at 100: “On the Waterfront”

The 1954 American crime drama, On the Waterfront, starring Marlon Brando, is set amid the union violence and corruption of longshoreman working on the docks of the Hoboken, New Jersey waterfront. The film, directed by Elia Kazan and written by Budd Schulberg, was ranked the eighth-greatest movie of all time by the American film institute. It was Leonard Bernstein’s only foray into the world of Hollywood film scoring. Bernstein found the collaborative nature of film scoring frustrating artistically. …

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Bernstein at 100: “Fancy Free”

From the moment the action begins, with the sound of a juke box wailing behind the curtain, the ballet is strictly wartime America, 1944. The curtain rises on a street corner with a lamp post, a side-street bar, and New York skyscrapers pricked out with a crazy pattern of lights, making a dizzying backdrop. Three sailors explode onto the stage. They are on twenty-four-hour shore leave in the city and on the …

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Bernstein at 100: From Broadway to the Symphony

As a composer and conductor, Leonard Bernstein passionately sought a style of concert music which could be called uniquely “American.” “What is American Music?” was the subject of one of his nationally-televised Young People’s Concerts. Composing the “great American opera” remained an elusive goal. It must have been on his mind with the creation of A Quiet Place in 1983, as well as an ill-advised 1984 adaptation of West Side Story performed by an operatic lineup including José Carreras and Kiri Te Kanawa. Like …

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Bernstein at 100: “Serenade, after Plato’s Symposium”

This month, we celebrate the centennial of the birth of Leonard Bernstein. Born on August 25, 1918, Bernstein was a uniquely energetic and multi-faceted figure- a bold and inventive conductor dedicated to adventurous, American programming during his tenure as music director of the New York Philharmonic, a composer who seemed to be trying to wrap his arms around the entire Western musical canon from Mahler to Ives, a passionate teacher and communicator …

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Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, “Eroica”: Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic

The Romantic era in music may have begun, unofficially, with the ferocious opening hammer blows of Beethoven’s Third Symphony. As the story goes, this monumental and revolutionary music was originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte. When Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of France in 1804, Beethoven reportedly scratched out the dedication on the title page (shown above) and re-dedicated the Symphony to the Hero (“Eroica”), exclaiming So he is no more than a common mortal! Now, too, …

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Mozart’s Symphony No. 25: Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic

Next month marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990). As a conductor, composer, pianist, and educator, Bernstein seems to have thrown his arms around the world of music. He brought a unique energy and dynamism to the podium, as well as to his compositions, which run the gamut from the Broadway theater to the concert hall. Over the coming weeks, we’ll explore the music of Leonard Bernstein. For …

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