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The Music Quest: Answer 6
About This Daily Classroom Special
The Music Quest  focuses on discovering the wonders of our musical universe. Visit it for a musical question—a description and hints about a mystery composer, musician, instrument or musical excerpt.
The Music Quest was written  by former Teachers Network Web Mentor Kristi Thomas, a teacher at  William F. Halley Elementary School Fairfax Station, Virginia.

Answer 6



tribute to Leonard Bernstein

By the time he was 40, Leonard Bernstein had pursued and had done justice to conducting, playing the piano, writing music for stage and film, teaching, and writing books and poetry. His restless creativity also allowed him to excel at performing for television and at creating theatre pieces.

Bernstein was born on August 25, 1918, the son of Russian immigrants, Samuel Joseph and Jennie Resnick Bernstein. He became interested in music at age 10, when a relative sent an upright piano to the Bernstein household. The young Bernstein badgered his father until he agreed to let the boy take piano lessons.

During high school, Bernstein succeeded at academics and athletics, but it wasn't until his years at Harvard University that he began to pursue music as a career. From 1935 to 1939, he studied piano with Heinrich Gebhard and composition with Walter Piston and Edward Burlinghame. Bernstein also spent two years, after college, at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied conducting with Fritz Reiner and continued studying piano. Upon graduating from Curtis, he created his first published composition, "Clarinet Sonata," in 1942.

Bernstein accepted an offer from Artur Rodzinski, in the summer of 1943, to be assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic orchestra. In November of that year, much sooner than he ever dreamed, a culture hero was born. On the 14th of that month, a Sunday, Bernstein learned that the scheduled guest conductor, Bruno Walter, had come down with the flu and could not conduct. Bernstein, who had no chance to rehearse, had to step in for the evening's coast-to-coast CBS Radio broadcast performance. Nervously, he stepped into the fray and conducted a thrilling performance that amazed the audience and landed the 25 year-old on the front page of The New York Times.

Two months later, Bernstein presented his first symphony, the "Jeremiah Symphony," a work that won the New York Music Critics' Circle award. The ballet, Fancy Free, for which he wrote he score, made its debut three months later and was an enormous hit. In fact, its popularity sparked the decision to transform it into a musical. Bernstein suggested that Betty Comden and Adolph Green be hired to create the libretto and lyrics.

The three teamed up again in 1944, with George Abbott and Jerome Robbins, to produce On the Town, a joyous musical about three sailors on a wild 24-hour leave in New York. The production debuted on December 28 of that year.

Bernstein worked as conductor of the New York City Center Orchestra from 1945 to 1948. During his time here, he created his trademark style of conducting, including theatrically thrusting his arms and erotically twisting his hips. Music critic, Harold Schomberg, described Bernstein as "the most choreographic of all contemporary conductors." In 1959, he composed his second symphony, The Age of Anxiety, inspired by a W.H. Auden poem. The next decade took Bernstein on a journey through a variety of pursuits.

In 1951, Bernstein married the actress, Felicia Montealegre Cohn, and two years later, he became the first American to conduct the orchestra of La Scala opera house. The following year, he was nominated for an Academy Award for his score for On the Waterfront. He also wrote the score for the Broadway musical, Candide, which opened in December 1956. In the spring of 1957, Bernstein won an Emmy for "Best Musical Contribution to Television" for his performance in "Omnibus" on CBS. Fall of that year brought the smash, West Side Story, for which he created the score, to the National Theater.

Bernstein published his first book in 1959, the same year he began his position as musical director of the New York Philharmonic. He stayed with them for 11 years, stirring and enrapturing audiences with his vibrant showmanship and the passionate music he extracted from his musicians. His energy spread through the orchestra as well as through the listeners.

While touring with the Philharmonic, Bernstein continued to produce new work, including his third symphony, Kaddish (1963) and his second book, The Infinite Variety of Music (1966). In 1969, when he left the Philharmonic, he was named Laureate Conductor for life, an unprecedented honor.

During the 1970s, Bernstein involved himself in a number of artistic projects. He composed "Mass," a theater piece for singers, players, and dancers, in 1971. The next year, he returned to Harvard to lecture as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry. In 1976, he led the Philharmonic on a gala bicentennial tour of Europe and the United States. Also, that year, he won an Emmy for "Outstanding Classical Music Program" for a PBS show called "Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic." New York presented him with the Handel Medallion in 1977, recognizing him for his many achievements and for his magnificent contribution to the culture of New York City.

In 1989, Bernstein conducted an orchestra of international musicians to celebrate the struggle for independence in Eastern Europe, then appealed for brotherhood in East and West Germany. The concert was broadcast live in more than 20 countries. He was working on the final stages of Arias and Barcarolles when he died in October 1990.


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