1969–90, Laureate Conductor
b. Lawrence, Massachusetts, August 25, 1918
d. New York, October 14, 1990
Leonard Bernstein was part performer (his earliest aspirations were as a pianist), part composer, part conductor, part lecturer and author, and part teacher. An 11-time Emmy Award winner, his Young People’s Concerts with the Philharmonic spanned over 14 seasons. His debut on November 14, 1943 is the stuff of legend — the virtually unknown New York Philharmonic Assistant Conductor stepping onto the Carnegie Hall podium to conduct a live radio broadcast in place of the ailing guest conductor, Bruno Walter, on a few hours’ notice.
Bernstein’s association with the Philharmonic spanned 47 years, 1244 concerts, and 200-plus recordings. In a program after his death, the Orchestra remembered America’s best known classical musician: “His 11 years as our Music Director [1958-1969] and 21 years as our Laureate Conductor were periods of brilliance in the Orchestra’s history. Mr. Bernstein will be remembered for his genius, his leadership, his humanitarianism, his ability to transmit his love of music to young and old, his dedication to our Orchestra, his service to young musicians, and his unforgettable, ebullient and caring personality. We are grateful for his legacy.” It is only one indication of the love its current players — at least one of whom played in that 1943 concert — bear Lenny that the Philharmonic will occasionally play one of his works without a conductor.
Bernstein was also closely linked to the Vienna Philharmonic; the Israel Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, and Rome’s Santa Cecilia Academy. He conducted at the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, and the Vienna State Opera, taught at Brandeis University, and headed the conducting faculty at the Berkshire Music Center.