Leonard Bernstein was one of the most iconic American composers and conductors of the 20th century, and was among the first American musicians who gained worldwide recognition.
He actually made his breakthrough as a conductor by chance, when he suddenly had to stand in for the ailing Bruno Walter for a concert by the New York Philharmonic in 1943. The concert, which was broadcast live on radio, received critical acclaim from the press. Bernstein would soon become a sought-after guest conductor.
From 1958 till 1969, Bernstein was principal conductor of the New York Philharmonic, with which he performed amongst others the complete symphonies of Mahler, which sparked a renewed interest in the music of the Austrian composer in the United States. He was also an advocate of the music of American composers, in particular that of his close friend Aaron Copland. Bernstein recorded nearly all of his orchestral works, and paid much attention to his music in his popular television series Young People’s Concerts, in which he introduced a young audience to classical music.
As a composer, Bernstein is primarily known for his accessible theatre works such as Wonderful Town, Candide and The West Side Story, which still is his most popular work. He also composed three symphonies and several shorter chamber works. In his music he fused elements of Jewish music, theatre music and jazz with those of composers like Copland, Stravinsky and Gershwin.