Leonard Bernstein and the promise of America

Scott Duke Kominers / BloombergLeonard Bernstein – "Lenny" to his friends – would have been 100 Saturday. As a child of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants, Bernstein grew into one of the world's largest musical icons. He brought us the Jets and the Sharks into West Side Story & # 39 ;, as well as the enduring New York serenades. Moreover, he showed us how to make music "more intense, more beautiful, [and] more dedicated than ever before "could bridge cultural barriers – and make people free to dream.

Distinguished as a conductor, Bernstein conducted orchestras from Austria to Australia, and was the first American to act as a music director for the New York Philharmonic. As a composer, Bernstein was miraculous and versatile, and he wrote everything from classical symphonies to musicals and opera.

Bernstein's music pushed boundaries – both on genres and between music and the outside world. Bernstein was known for his hypnotic, all-consuming style on the stage of the conductor. He committed himself to the public and was carried away by the music. He started collaborating with choreographers such as Jerome Robbins and jazz legends like Louis Armstrong. And he was uncompromising: Marin Alsop, a protege of Bernstein who now serves as the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, commented that Bernstein "would re-examine every piece of music, to bring a new approach and new insights."

Bernstein's compositions were in the meantime challenging, even with a wrong note or two. Bernstein took subjects that were normally neglected in the conservatory. "West Side Story" redefined Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" in the context of ethnic and gang tensions in the New York of the 1950s. In other compositions, Bernstein considered pretentious masculinity, ruin of suburbs and racial relationships in the White House. But he can also be airy – some of his characters just want conga!

Bernstein, who died in 1990, at the age of 72, often reminded us that America has a place for us somewhere – a lesson that seems at least as relevant as during Bernstein's life. He held a particularly weak point in his heart for New York – & # 39; a beautiful city, "as he would repeat over and over again. Bernstein's Judaism also drew on his work, leading to lifelong collaboration with the Israeli Philharmonic orchestras, as well as numerous compositions based on Jewish prayers and themes.

Moreover, Bernstein became a global public figure. He launched international music festivals and supported social goals, ranging from AIDS education to nuclear disarmament. And he played a crucial role in desegregating the performance of concert music.

He gave classical music a public face: an incorrigible educator, Bernstein invited everyone to experience and understand music through lectures and broadcasted on television "Young People & # 39; s Concerts". He helped pave the way for contemporary musical ambassadors such as Yo-Yo Ma, who had his television debut – at the age of 7 – in a performance that Bernstein presented to former president John F. Kennedy. If you have grown up with classical music in the past 50 years, you must at least partially thank Bernstein.

Decorated in life – Bernstein won 16 Grammy prizes, as well as numerous international prizes – a centennial celebration has shown his music worldwide, including a Saturday night concert at the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts, where Bernstein studied, led and taught for many years.

Congratulations Lenny!

Kominers is the MBA class of 1960 Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, and a faculty attached to the Harvard Department of Economics. He was previously a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and the inaugural research scientist at the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics at the University of Chicago.Speech

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