[ Sony Classical Masters / 7 CD Box Set ]
Release Date: Thursday 1 September 2011
Leonard Bernstein was perhaps the most influential figure in classical music in the last half of the twentieth century. Composer, conductor, author, lecturer and often controversial media personality, the American-born Bernstein had a dramatic impact on the popular audience's acceptance and appreciation of classical music.
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was perhaps the most influential figure in classical music in the last half of the twentieth century. Composer, conductor, author, lecturer and often controversial media personality, the American-born Bernstein had a dramatic impact on the popular audience's acceptance and appreciation of classical music. His own work as a composer, particularly his scores for such Broadway musicals as West Side Story and On the Town, helped forge a new relationship between classical and popular music.
For much of his career, including his legendary tenure as music director of the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein recorded exclusively for Columbia/CBS Masterworks, which is now Sony Classical. This vast legacy of recordings, featuring his work as both composer and conductor, is now being remastered and collected in a comprehensive new Sony Classical series entitled Bernstein Century.
Bernstein was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He took piano lessons as a boy and attended the Garrison and Boston Latin schools. At Harvard University he studied with Walter Piston, Edward Burlingame-Hill and A.
Tillman Merritt, among others. Before graduating in 1939, he made an unofficial conducting debut with his own incidental music to The Birds and directed and performed in Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock. Then, at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, he studied piano with Isabella Vengerova, conducting with Fritz Reiner and orchestration with Randall Thompson. In 1940 he studied at the Boston Symphony Orchestra's newly created summer institute at Tanglewood with the orchestra's conductor, Serge Koussevitsky. Bernstein later became Koussevitzky's conducting assistant.
Bernstein was appointed to his first permanent conducting post in 1943, as assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic. On November 14, 1943, he substituted on a few hours notice for the ailing Bruno Walter at a Carnegie Hall concert, which was broadcast nationally on radio, receiving critical acclaim. Soon orchestras worldwide sought him out as a guest conductor.
In 1945 he was appointed music director of the New York City Symphony Orchestra, a post he held until 1947. After Serge Koussevitzky died in 1951, Bernstein headed the orchestral and conducting departments at Tanglewood, teaching there for many years. In 1951 he married the Chilean actress and pianist Felicia Montealegre. He was also visiting music professor and head of the Creative Arts Festivals at Brandeis University in the early 1950s.
Bernstein became music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1958.
From then until 1969 he led more concerts with the orchestra than any previous conductor. He subsequently held the lifetime title of laureate conductor, making frequent guest appearances with the orchestra. More than half of Bernstein's four-hundred-plus recordings were made with the New York Philharmonic.
Bernstein traveled the world as a conductor. Immediately after World War II, in 1946, he conducted in London and at the International Music Festival in Prague. In 1947 he conducted in Tel Aviv, beginning a relationship with Israel that lasted until his death. In 1953 Bernstein was the first American to conduct opera at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan: Cherubini's Medea with Maria Callas.
Bernstein was a leading advocate of American composers, particularly Aaron Copland. The two remained close friends for life. As a young pianist Bernstein performed Copland's Piano Variations so often he considered the composition his trademark. Bernstein programmed and recorded nearly all of the Copland orchestral works, many of them twice. He devoted several televised Young People's Concerts to Copland, and gave the premiere of Copland's Connotations, commissioned for the opening of the Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall) at Lincoln Center in 1962.
While Bernstein's conducting repertoire encompassed the standard literature, he may be best remembered for his performances and recordings of Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Sibelius and Mahler. Particularly notable were his performances of the Mahler symphonies with the New York Philharmonic in the 1960s. These now-legendary performances reintroduced Mahler's works into the concert repertoire and initiated the restoration of Mahler's reputation as a composer (SMK 64204).
Inspired by his Jewish heritage, Bernstein completed his first large-scale work, Symphony No. 1: Jeremiah (1943). The piece was first performed with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1944, conducted by the composer, and received the New York Music Critics' Award. Koussevitzky premiered Bernstein's Symphony No. 2: The Age of Anxiety with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Bernstein as piano soloist. His Symphony No. 3: Kaddish, composed in 1963, was premiered by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
Kaddish is dedicated "To the Beloved Memory of John F. Kennedy."
Other major compositions by Bernstein include Prelude, Fugue and Riffs for solo clarinet and jazz ensemble (1949); Serenade for violin, strings and percussion (1954); Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (1960); Chichester Psalms for chorus, boy soprano and orchestra (1965); Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers, commissioned for the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and first produced there in 1971 (SM2K 63089); Songfest, a song cycle for six singers and orchestra (1977); Divertimento for Orchestra (1980); Halil for solo flute and small orchestra (1981); Touches for solo piano (1981); Missa Brevis for singers and percussion (1988); Thirteen Anniversaries for solo piano (1988); Concerto for Orchestra: Jubilee Games (1989); and Arias and Barcarolles for two singers and piano duet (1988).
Bernstein also wrote a one-act opera, Trouble in Tahiti, in 1952, and its sequel, the three-act opera, A Quiet Place, in 1983. He collaborated with choreographer Jerome Robbins on three major ballets, Fancy Free (1944) and Facsimile (1946) for the American Ballet Theatre and Dybbuk (1975) for the New York City Ballet (SMK 63090). He composed the score for the award-winning movie On the Waterfront in 1954 (SMK 63085) and incidental music for two Broadway plays, Peter Pan (1950) and The Lark (1955).
Bernstein contributed substantially to the Broadway musical stage. He collaborated with Betty Comden and Adolph Green in On the Town (1944) and Wonderful Town (1953). In collaboration with Richard Wilbur, Lillian Hellman and others, he wrote Candide (1956). Other versions of Candide were written in association with such collaborators as Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim. In 1957 he again collaborated with Jerome Robbins and Stephen Sondheim, as well as Arthur Laurents, on the landmark musical West Side Story, also made into the Academy Award-winning film (SMK 63085). In 1976 Bernstein and Alan Jay Lerner wrote 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Festivals of Bernstein's music have been produced throughout the world.
Candide - Overture
West Side Story: Symphonic Dances
On the Waterfront: Symphonic Suite
Fancy Free, ballet
Prelude, Fugue & Riffs for Solo Clarinet and Jazz Ensemble
(with Benny Goodman, clarinet)
Dybbuk - Ballet (1974)
Serenade (after Plato's 'Symposium')
Symphony No. 1 'Jeremiah'
(with Jennie Tourel, mezzo-soprano)
Dance Episodes (3) from 'On The Town'
Symphony No. 2 'The Age of Anxiety'
Symphony No. 3 'Kaddish'
(with John Bogart, alto)
I Hate Music, a cycle of five 'kid songs'
(with Jennie Tourel, mezzo-soprano, & Leonard Bernstein, piano)
La Bonne Cuisine, 4 recipes
(with Jennie Tourel, mezzo-soprano, & Leonard Bernstein, piano)
Trouble in Tahiti
(with Antonia Butler, soprano, Nancy Williams, mezzo-soprano),
Facsimile - Choreographic essay for orchestra
(with Alan Titus, baritone)