He was a wunderkind: the youngest music director ever to lead the New York Philharmonic and the genius behind the score to West Side Story.
The late Leonard Bernstein would have turned 100 next year, and today, the Boston Symphony Orchestra commences a new season dedicated to the Massachusetts-born composer-conductor, one of the US’ most famous maestros.
Carnegie Hall gets into the act, too, launching its 2017-2018 season on Oct. 4 with a Bernstein program by the Philadelphia Orchestra and music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin.
The New York Philharmonic will perform Bernstein’s complete symphonic works in a centennial remembrance that starts on Oct. 25.
Boston Symphony music director Andris Nelsons calls Bernstein an “iconic figure” who influenced generations, including his own.
“Growing up in Latvia in the 1980s and ’90s, Leonard Bernstein always loomed large in the hearts and minds of all of us who aspired to a life in music, including mine,” Nelsons said in an e-mail.
“It was Bernstein’s exuberance, passion and all-encompassing love of music that convinced all who encountered him that music was essential, affirming and necessary for a full life, in which beauty and inspiration ignite the very best of the human spirit,” said Nelsons, now in his fourth season leading the orchestra.
Bernstein was born to Russian-Jewish immigrants in gritty Lawrence, Massachusetts, on Aug. 25, 1918. At age 10, the course of his life changed forever when an aunt gave the family an upright piano.
Bernstein’s father ran a beauty supply business, but the young musician wanted none of that. He studied at Harvard, the Curtis Institute and the Boston Symphony’s summer retreat at Tanglewood in the Berkshires.
Famed composers Aaron Copland and Serge Koussevitzky recognized his talents and mentored him.
Bernstein’s 1943 ballet about a trio of sailors granted a day’s shore leave in New York became the runaway Broadway smash hit On The Town, later made into a movie starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly.
He followed that with the movie score for On the Waterfront; the Tony Award-winning Wonderful Town; Broadway’s Candide; and West Side Story.
Bernstein never forgot his Massachusetts roots. He spent four decades guest-conducting the Boston Symphony and wrote his Divertimento for the orchestra’s own centennial in 1980.
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