Louis Bernstein was born on this day in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1918. Today is the 95th anniversary of his birth.
His parents, Jennie and Samuel Bernstein, were hard working Ukrainian immigrants. Although his birth cirtificate said ‘Louis’ everyone called him Leonard or Lenny. He officially changed his name when he was about 16.
His love affair with the piano began almost by accident when he was 10.
His Aunt Clara was going through a divorce and needed a place to store her massive upright piano. Lenny loved everything about the instrument, but his father refused to pay for lessons. Determined, the boy raised his own small pot of money to pay for a few sessions. He was a natural from the start, and by the time his bar mitzvah rolled around, his father was impressed enough to buy him a baby grand piano. The young Bernstein found inspiration everywhere and played with a voracity and spontaneity that impressed anyone who listened. [Biography.com]
In 1937, he attended a Boston Symphony concert conducted by Dmitri Mitropoulos. Bernstein’s heart sang when he saw the bald Greek man gesture with his bare hands, exuding a rare kind of enthusiasm for every score. At a reception the next day, Mitropoulos heard Bernstein play a sonata, and he was so moved by the young man’s abilities that he invited him to attend his rehearsals. Leonard spent a week with him. After the experience, Bernstein was determined to make music the center of his life. [Ibid]
After Harvard he went on to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia to study conducting with Fritz Reiner and Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood.
He landed a job with the New York Philharmonic and conducted his first concert on November 14, 1943. He went on to conduct internationally.
Bernstein wrote his first operetta, Candide in 1956. His second work for the stage was a collaboration with Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurents andStephen Sondheim, the beloved musical West Side Story. When it opened, the show garnered unanimous rave reviews, matched only by its movie version released in 1961. [Ibid]
Here’s a two hour plus concert presentation of Candide…
And here’s a cool 10 minute mash up of modern day and original Broadway casts of West Side Story rehearsing for a Broadway Cares event…
[ANITA! 3:46 she still rocks!] [Click here to see my BioBlog on Secondary Character Saturday: Anita]