Leonard Bernstein born 25 August 1918 (d. 1990)
Leonard Bernstein was an American conductor, composer, and pianist. He was the first conductor born in the US to receive world-wide acclaim, and is known for both his conducting of the New York and Berlin Philharmonics, including the acclaimed Young People's Concerts series, and his multiple compositions, including West Side Story, Candide and On The Town.
Bernstein was very highly regarded as a conductor, composer, and educator, and probably best known to the public as longtime music director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, for conducting concerts by many of the world's leading orchestras, and for writing the music for West Side Story. He may well be more famous among the general public than any other conductor before or since. All told, he wrote three symphonies, two operas, five musicals, and numerous other pieces.
Throughout the 1960s, Leonard Bernstein was undoubtedly the most visible proponent of classical music in American culture. Through his outgoing personality and resourceful uses of the media, particularly television, Bernstein introduced 'highbrow' culture into the homes of middle America, while also defending rock and roll as 'real' music and espousing radical causes.
Given his overwhelming celebrity and acclaim as a composer, conductor, pianist, and lecturer, the meteoric career of this son of Russian Jewish immigrants would seem to exemplify the all-American success story; yet, for most of his life, the spectre of the closet lurked threateningly behind the glamorous and often brash public image of Leonard Bernstein.
In spite of Bernstein's public avowal of unpopular causes - he was outspoken on civil rights and Vietnam - he was, for much of his career, unwilling to risk exposure of his homosexuality. Indeed, the social mores of the 1950s and 1960s were such that a revelation of homosexuality would undoubtedly have destroyed the celebrity and influence he had attained.
In 1951, Bernstein married the Chilean actress Felicia Montealegre, with whom he had three children. Bernstein nonetheless engaged in a number of homosexual relationships over the years. In the mid-1970s, the couple separated, and Bernstein attempted to live an openly gay life with Tom Cochran, who had been his lover since 1971. A year later, he returned to his wife, who was by this time terminally ill.
After Montealegre's death in 1978, Bernstein became increasingly open about his gayness.
Bernstein's final major composition, the opera A Quiet Place (1983), positions a bisexual male character, who functions as the mediator between the other, more conflicted characters, at the centre of the action. The opera's message is one of reconciliation and acceptance among all people.
Although increasingly in ill health in his final years, Bernstein continued to perform and record until his death from a heart attack on October 14, 1990.
As a conductor, he had a vast repertoire and recorded frequently, often in collaboration with the greatest singers and solo musicians of the postwar era. As a result, he has left an extensive and remarkable legacy of recordings and video performances that will ensure his reputation as an intelligent and enthusiastic conductor, composer, and musician for generations to come.
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