One of the great American musicians of the 20th century, Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was a composer, conductor and educator. His musical interests were varied: he composed the Broadway musical West Side Story, conducted Mahler’s symphonies to great acclaim and wrote the soundtrack to the Hollywood film On the Waterfront. The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Lenny, as he was known colloquially, lived the American dream: he went to Harvard, was the first American to conduct at La Scala (Cherubini’s Medea with Maria Callas in the title role) and when he was appointed music director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at the age of 40, was the youngest person to take up that position. Other orchestras with which he had long-standing relationships include the Vienna Philharmonic and Israel Philharmonic. Bernstein was a superb communicator. His lecture/demonstrations on music with the New York Philharmonic, many of which were filmed for television, are outstanding examples of their type. He not only inspired young listeners but adults too. Bernstein had a complicated private life. He married the Chilean-American actress Felicia Montealegre Cohn in 1951 and together they had two sons and a daughter. He also pursued sexual relationships with men. Indeed, he left his wife for a man in 1976 but returned to her a short while later. She died in 1978. In addition to being bisexual, Bernstein was sympathetic to left-wing causes. As a result, he was a prime candidate for surveillance by the FBI, which amassed a substantial file on him.
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