Southbank Sinfonia | Bernstein


PASSPORT: Leonard Bernstein

“To achieve great things two things are needed; a plan and not quite enough time.” Leonard Bernstein

If Leonard Bernstein was in football and not music, he’d be a star player, a top coach, a referee and a commentator. He is every part of music all in one man; a great conductor, a great composer, a great performer, a great teacher and above all, he wasn’t shy to tell the whole world how much he loved music!

“I can’t live one day without hearing music, playing it, studying it, or thinking about it. Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”

Known to his friends simply as ‘Lenny’, he was born and bred in America and was one of the first really famous American classical musicians around the world.

When he was just ten years old, his aunt needed somewhere to store her large piano. Young Lenny loved everything about the instrument: its size, the touch of the cool ivory keys under his little fingers and the beauty of the sounds which came out. His Father had different ideas though – there was no way he was going to pay for Lenny to take music lessons! Lenny, never one to give up, saved and saved his pocket money and in the end had enough for a few lessons. He was a natural and his father was so impressed by the progress he’d made in just a handful of lessons that he bought him a new piano and paid for lessons.

Lenny found inspiration everywhere, from the outdoors to his friends and family, and put all his ideas into creating his own music at the piano.

He went on to train as a musician and to write some of the best known and most loved tunes we still enjoy today. His music for the stage musical West Side Story includes some of his most famous tunes. Maybe you’ll recognise the melodies in these clips:

Click to hear Mambo (West Side Story)

Click to hear Somewhere (West Side Story)

Lenny was a huge character much loved by the orchestras he worked with. Have a look at this video of him conducting his fast and fun overture to the opera Candide – his moves on the conductor’s podium have us giggling and impressed in equal measure!

To find out about other composers, click here.