The Bernstein Effect: Leonard Bernstein's Conducting Legacy

May 30, 2018

There's Leonard Bernstein, the composer of all that splashy, jazzy music for West Side Story. There’s Leonard Bernstein, the showy — some might say flamboyant — conductor of the New York Philharmonic and other top-flight orchestras.

And then there’s Leonard Bernstein, the generous mentor of aspiring conductors who today occupy the prestigious podiums where Bernstein himself once stood.

As part of Classical 101's Bernstein Summer celebration, you can experience the quieter yet powerfully enduring effect of Bernstein's mentoring with performances conducted by many of his illustrious former students, each week during June and July on The American Sound.

Bernstein was part of the Tanglewood Music Festival almost from the event's earliest days — first as a student conductor, and later as the mentor of conductors who now lead the world's top orchestras.

He was 22 years old when, in 1940, he heard that the Boston Symphony Orchestra's legendary music director Serge Koussevitzky would be heading up a conducting training program at Tanglewood. Bernstein arranged a meeting with Koussevitzky, who accepted him into his summer program. 

Two years later, Bernstein became Koussevitzky's assistant at Tanglewood and eventually stepped into his mentor's shoes, teaching young conductors every summer at Tanglewood until his death in 1990.

Notable Bernstein conducting mentees whose work will be featured on The American Sound include Edo de Waart, Paavo Järvi, Michael Tilson Thomas, Patrick Gallois and Eiji Oue.

These conductors have led the world's major orchestras — the San Francisco Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Seattle Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, among others.

This week on The American Sound, enjoy the trailblazing Marin Alsop's interpretation of music by Samuel Barber.

Over the course of her career, Alsop has shattered glass ceilings time and again in the still male-dominated world of conducting.

As music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Alsop is the first woman to hold the music director post with a major U.S. orchestra. In 2011, Alsop became the first woman ever to conduct the Cleveland Orchestra. 

In 2013, she became the first woman ever to conduct the glamorous Last Night of the BBC Proms. Alsop was invited to conduct the Last Night of the Proms again two years later, making her the first — and still, the only — woman to conduct the Last Night of the Proms more than once.

Alsop's speech on the 2013 Last Night of the Proms remains as historic as her conducting performance there:

Experience how one of America's greatest musical minds shaped and guided a whole generation of world-class conductors. Join me for The American Sound, 6 p.m. Saturdays and 7 p.m. Tuesdays, to feel the Bernstein Effect.

Leading up to the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein's birthday on Aug. 25, 2018, Classical 101 is celebrating A Bernstein Summer on air and online.