The death this week of Leonard Bernstein at age 72, only four days after his retirement, deprives the world not only of a famous classical musician, but cuts short a brilliant career than spanned many different kinds of music.
He was as revered on Broadway and in Hollywood as he was in Philharmonic Hall and Vienna. Small and handsome with a leonine head, Bernstein became known round the world as the legendary "Leaping Lennie," a conductor who actually jumped up and down on the podium.The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Bernstein was born in Lawrence, Mass. He shunned his father's beauty supply business and studied at Harvard, the Curtis Institute and the Boston Symphony's summer retreat at Tanglewood, Mass.
It was 1943 when a wiry young man of 25 got his big break - filling in at the last minute for an ailing Bruno Walter to conduct the New York Philharmonic in a concert broadcast on national radio. Immediately, he was the man to watch. In 1959, he became that orchestra's conductor, the first American-born music director put at the helm of a major American symphony orchestra.
Bernstein was a conductor, pianist, educator, author and composer. His compositions included the theatrical, chamber music, symphonies, ballet and even a Mass. Ironically, he may be best remembered as the composer of the popular "West Side Story."
His televised "Young People's Concerts" helped introduce the baby-boom generation to classical music and won numerous Emmy awards. He also won Grammy awards and a Tony.
A flamboyant conductor who won a wider audience for classical music, he became a pop celebrity of the rock 'n roll age. In short, Bernstein refused to stay confined in a single category of music. His brilliant musical contributions will remain unforgettable.