#TBT: Remembering Leonard Bernstein & His West Side Story
As told to Veronica Szafranski| March 5, 2015 |
As the Curtis Institute of Music marks its 90th anniversary, David Ludwig, dean of artistic programs, remembers venerable composer and Curtis alum Leonard Bernstein.
Leonard Bernstein returned to the Curtis Institute often to teach where he himself had learned. Here, he conducts the Curtis Symphony Orchestra in a performance of his Symphony No. 2, “The Age of Anxiety,” in 1984.
“Leonard Bernstein influenced me and just about every other composer I know by being willing to take chances and incorporate music from many different eras and genres into his own sound, including all manner of popular music. No one had a greater impact on the public’s knowledge of music than Bernstein.
"West Side Story is definitely his best-known work and probably one of the best pieces of American music—it certainly set the standard for all musical theater that came after. Some of the songs have very complicated rhythms and quite modern harmonies, but he’s framed them in such a brilliant way that anyone can hear them once and sing them right back to you. Think about ‘America,’ ‘Maria,’ ‘Tonight,’ or ‘I Feel Pretty.’ Those songs will stay with you all day.
"Bernstein studied with some of the legendary teachers at the Curtis Institute of Music, including the great conductor Fritz Reiner, whom he often referred to when talking about important influences in his life. Bernstein clearly valued his time at Curtis; he came back to work with students several times over the years.
"This photo of the maestro with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra at the Academy of Music was taken on April 22, 1984, during Curtis’s 60th-anniversary celebration. Bernstein, who was then 66, was still incredibly active as a conductor and composer at this time, although he died just six years later, at the age of 72.
"Curtis is now celebrating its 90th anniversary, and even though the school has changed a great deal over the past few years, it’s really a matter of evolution more than revolution. I think Bernstein would appreciate that—I can think of no greater example of a musician who so welcomed the future by so thoroughly embracing the past. We’ve had some amazing people subsequently who have understood the value and importance of classical music and who could really communicate it with passion and charisma, but there was really only one Leonard Bernstein.”
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF CURTIS INSTITUTE OF MUSIC ARCHIVES