Leonard Bernstein (1918 – 1990)
Classical composer, producer of musicals, demon conductor – Leonard Bernstein was so talented in so many disciplines that it was sometimes thought to be a hindrance for him. While giving out his cheeky little song cycle “I hate music”, he debuted with panache as an stand-in conductor without much preparation for Bruno Walter, who was ill, with the New York Philharmonic. It was 1943 and the name Bernstein was soon on everyone’s lips. Already, he had a first, Jewish-inspired symphony behind him, and he soon also had a hit with the smart musical “On the Town”.
Another special year was 1957, with the premier of West Side Story, and Bernstein’s appointment as chief conductor of the New York Philharmonic. At last, in the opinion of many people, the USA had its first American maestro. But endeavouring as Leonard Bernstein to bring about an American repertoire was not as popular. He became more of a favourite among the general public as a high ranking television personality and educator of the people.
Bernstein’s work with music was characterised both by jazz and by his Jewish descent – the latter would also lead to a massive launch of Mahler’s at that time little-played symphonies. A global music world grieved his death at the age of 72.