The Joy of Music
People the world over thought of him as 'Lenny' because
of the intimacy of his teaching and emotionally-charged performances. And, as we became acquainted with his music-- as
a pianist, composer, conductor, lecturer, and author-- we got to know the man. We watched him expand the audience for classical
music to thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds without sacrificing a deep artistic integrity.
His exuberant style captured our hearts, for
his power on the podium was electric. He willed sounds from instruments with bold physicality. As maestro, he exuded
the music he heard in his head and wanted us to hear. He willed it to happen. We heard it, and we knew it gave him such
pleasure to share the music he loved.
He was the quintesential musician of the 20th
century-- and few would disagree with that statement. And it didn't hurt that he was a handsome devil as well as an
actor playing the greatest role: himself. As such, he was a gift to television between the years 1954 and 1989. Who doesn't
remember his beguiling presence on the "Young People's Concerts?"
Lenny was a pioneer in American Music. He was
the first internationally acclaimed American-born orchestra conductor. Before him, all the great orchestras were led by Europeans
or Asians. In his 17 world tours with the New York Philharmonic, he invariably included American composers in his
program (especially Aaron Copland).
He benefited from a solid music education. His
parents, Russian immigrants, sent him to the Boston Latin School. From there he went to Harvard for his music degree. Then
he studied orchestration at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
When the conductor Serge Koussevitzky drew him
to Tanglewood, Massachusetts-- he honed his craft for three summers before being appointed Assistant Conductor of the New
Then he became world famous at the age of 25.
Now how would he do that? Well, like most improbabilities, luck was involved. A guest conductor was ailing and Lenny was asked
to fill in. His high-wire performance made him an instant celebrity with a review on the front page of the New York Times.
From then on the word 'preeminent' took an adjectival place before his name.
The 1950's were his. He wrote the scores for
Candide, West Side Story, On the Town, and On the Waterfront. Oscars and Emmys followed. He energized the music world and
exported a new appreciation for American classical music. In all, he conducted an unprecedented 969 concerts with the New
York Symphony Orchestra.
He was a oner-- with a formable piano technique,
he was a respected composer, accessible teacher, and certainly one of the most prodigiously talented and successful musicians
in American history. We were lucky to have him in our midst.
Of all his books, THE JOY OF MUSIC is still the
'must-read' for anyone with ears. In it, he expresses music more fully and deeply-- with and through one of the most
inspired music intellects ever.
Long Live Leonard Bernstein
B. August 25, 1918
D. October 14, 1990