US conductor and versatile composer, whose works range from symphonies to popular musicals.
Born at Lawrence, Massachusetts, he studied at Harvard University, the Curtis Institute, and also, during the summers of 1940 and 1941, at Tanglewood under Koussevitsky, who – impressed by his talent – made him his assistant there in 1942. He quickly attracted notice as a conductor (and pianist) and made his name overnight when he deputized at short notice for Bruno Walter in 1944. He conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra from 1945 to 1948, and again from 1957 to 1969, when he was made conductor laureate for life. He toured extensively in Latin America, Europe, Asia, and the USA.
As a composer, Bernstein wrote works in widely different styles, from the Chichester Psalms (1965), a festival commission from Chichester Cathedral, to West Side Story (1957), his best-known musical. The style of his large instrumental and choral works is a diffuse virtuosity, juxtaposing a romantic intensity with jazz and Latin American elements. His book, The Unanswered Question (1973), reprints a series of lectures given at Harvard University.