The music of Leonard Bernstein (1918 - 1990) — American composer, pianist, and humanitarian — still delights us, and his promotion of global harmony inspires us. A prodigy as a symphony conductor, he became assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony at age 22 and was only 25 when he became assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, later serving as its conductor. He was the first American to become Music Director of leading orchestras in the United States as well as in London, Berlin, and La Scala.

Bernstein's compositions include symphonies, ballets, operas, piano, and other instrumental works. West Side Story and Candide remain among the most beloved of his contributions. For 14 years Bernstein brought Young People's Concerts with the New York Philharmonic to audiences on television, introducing a whole generation of young people to the marvels of music.

Bernstein's work with Amnesty International and other organizations devoted to healing of social ills brought significant relief and benefit to many. He conducted "Berlin Celebration Concerts" in 1989 on both sides of the Berlin Wall as it was being torn down. The recipient of numerous awards, including Emmys, he wrote, "Life without music is unthinkable; music without life is academic. That is why my contact with music is a total embrace."

To learn more about Bernstein's life and work, please visit his website.


Leonard Bernstein considered music a doorway to a kinder, more beautiful world. Choose one of these quotes for your reflections in honor of his birthday:

"Any great work of art … revives and readapts time and space, and the measure of its success is the extent to which it makes you an inhabitant of that world — the extent to which it invites you in and lets you breathe its strange, special air."
— in "What Makes Opera Grand?" Vogue (December 1958)

"Einstein said that 'the most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.' So why do so many of us try to explain the beauty of music, thus depriving it of its mystery?"
— in The Unanswered Question lecture series

"This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before."
— from prepared remarks at the United Jewish Appeal of Greater New York annual fundraising event, November 1963, on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Jr.

Spiritual Practices

Watch Bernstein conduct the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story at the Symphony Hall in Osaka, Japan, in 1985:

Listen to as much as your time allows. Let your heart open to the stirring, multifaceted moods of this music exploring the interfaces between tension and longing, violence and love.