Leonard Bernstein graduated from Harvard and studied with Fritz Reiner and Serge Koussevitsky. He found his voice in the 1940’s and projected the sound of urban and urbane America from World War II to anti-war movements of the 1970’s and the restoration of freedom in Europe.
He rocketed to worldwide fame when he stepped up at the last minute to replace ailing conductor Bruno Walter at the podium of the New York Philharmonic in the Fall of 1943 at age 25 and electrified the audience.
He became the most versatile of contemporary musicians: composer, conductor, and pianist of outstanding quality. His works are characterized by driving energy, melodic gift, and passionate approach.
He was a flamboyant personality and an eclectic composer, using whatever style of writing best suited his subjects. Often that basis was jazz, but there are echoes of other contemporary composers in his many works.
Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story is set in a New York slum, and its conflict is gang war. It is tough and also sentimental. It was directed by a new breed of choreographer-director Jerome Robbins, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It represents a form of American opera that combines serious opera with more popular indigenous musical comedy.
West Side Story is a tragic conflict in a blue collar neighborhood where there is rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds. Tony, a former member of the Jets, a white gang, falls in love with Maria, the sister of the leader of the sharks, a Puerto Rican gang.
The beautiful music, lyrics, and choreography of West Side Story poignantly and excitedly tells their tragic story.