Leonard Bernstein was probably the most important American classical musician of the 20th century.
Photograph by Al Ravenna, courtesy World Telegram & Sun and Library of Congress

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    On August 25, 1918, Louis Bernstein was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Louis changed his name to Leonard when he was a teenager, just a few years before he led the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in a groundbreaking debut. Leonard Bernstein would become one of the most important American musicians of the 20th century.
    Bernstein was a pianist, conductor, and composer. He had wildly diverse interests. As a pianist and conductor, he conducted orchestras from Tel Aviv, Israel; to Prague, Czech Republic; to Mexico City, Mexico; to Sapporo, Japan; as well as throughout the United States and Europe. With the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein also toured the world, including the Soviet Union (where he was congratulated by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich after a performance of one of Shostakovich’s symphonies). He is perhaps most noted for his interpretation of the music of Austrian composer Gustav Mahler, which he memorably performed with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
    As a composer, Bernstein drew on his vast knowledge of classical tradition and contemporary innovation to write symphonies, concertos, and music for ballet (Fancy Free), films (On the Waterfront) and opera (Candide). Bernstein’s most famous contributions, however, are probably his music for landmark American musicals such as On the Town and, of course, West Side Story
    Bernstein was also a gifted teacher. His “Young People’s Concerts” television series was broadcast in 40 countries, and introduced generations of young people to classical music. In both the series and his popular lectures, Bernstein was smart, engaging, diplomatic, and never condescended to his audience—whether they were grade-schoolers or Ivy League graduates.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    ballet Noun

    type of formal dance with detailed, precise movements.

    broadcast Verb

    to transmit signals, especially for radio or television media.

    classical music Noun

    formal Western European style of music, prolific in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries.

    composer Noun

    a person who writes music.

    concerto Noun

    piece of music written for an orchestra and one or more soloists.

    condescend Verb

    to behave as though one is talking to or interacting with a person of lesser position.

    conductor Noun

    leader of an orchestra or chorus.

    congratulate Verb

    to express happiness to a person on a certain occasion or achievement.

    connect Verb

    to join or link.

    contemporary Adjective

    having to do with the present time period.

    contribution Noun

    resource donated to a cause.

    debut Verb

    to appear for the first time in public.

    diplomatic Adjective

    skillful and respectful in dealing with people or communities.

    diverse Adjective

    varied or having many different types.

    engaging Adjective

    charming and interesting.

    folk Noun

    style of music or art based on peasant or traditional culture.

    generation Noun

    group in a species made up of members that are roughly the same age.

    groundbreaking Adjective

    innovative or pioneering.

    innovation Noun

    something new.

    interpretation Noun

    way of understanding an event or set of facts.

    Ivy League Noun

    group of prestigious colleges and universities in the northeastern United States: Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania, and Brown.

    jazz Noun

    American musical style with many variations, often featuring strong rhythms and difficult solos.

    Jewish Adjective

    having to do with the religion or culture of people tracing their ancestry to the ancient Middle East and the spiritual leaders Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

    landmark Adjective

    significant event or achievement.

    lecture Noun

    speech delivered in front of a class or audience, usually to instruct or impart knowledge.

    opera Noun

    comic or dramatic play in which all roles are sung.

    orbit Noun

    path of one object around a more massive object.

    orchestra Noun

    large group of musicians. Strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion are parts of an orchestra.

    perhaps Adverb


    pianist Noun

    someone who plays the piano.

    piano Noun

    percussion instrument played by striking a keyboard, which triggers a hammer to hit a string tuned to a specific note.

    rock ‘n’ roll Noun

    style of popular music blending elements of blues and country-western.

    Soviet Union Noun

    (1922-1991) large northern Eurasian nation that had a communist government. Also called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR.

    tour Verb

    to travel from place to place.

    tradition Noun

    beliefs, customs, and cultural characteristics handed down from one generation to the next.

    vast Adjective

    huge and spread out.