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Leonard Bernstein Centennial
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Leonard Bernstein Centennial - 7/20-7/22


TCM celebrates the 100th anniversary of a musical legend with three nights of programming devoted to some of Leonard Bernstein's most significant work as composer, conductor and pianist. Each evening provides insight into the extensive accomplishments of the man described by The New York Times as "Music's Monarch." Our tribute begins with a night of films showcasing Bernstein's scores, and succeeding nights are devoted to his televised appearances with the New York Philharmonic's Young People's Concerts and the series Omnibus.

Bernstein (1918-1990) was born in Lawrence, MA and educated at Harvard (graduated cum laude) and Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music. He made his major conducting debut in 1943 with the New York Philharmonic, where he would enjoy a long tenure as that orchestra's music director. He was also conductor of the New York Symphony (1945-48) and taught at various music centers and universities, serving as Professor of Music at Brandeis University (1951-56). He appeared numerous times as guest conductor with orchestras in the U.S. and abroad, and he became the first conductor to give a series of television lectures on classical music. Skilled at the piano, he frequently conducted from the keyboard.

Bernstein is revered in the Broadway community for his contributions to such stage musicals as West Side Story, Peter Pan, Candide, Wonderful Town and On the Town. His other compositions include three symphonies and many chamber and solo works. Below are the components of our tribute, beginning with an evening of movies and continuing with two nights of television concerts.

West Side Story (1961) is the film version of the 1957 Broadway musical scored by Bernstein, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents. The movie won 10 Academy Awards, including best director for Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins and Best Supporting Actress for Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno. The film also stars Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer.

On the Town (1949) is MGM's screen adaptation of the 1944 Broadway show with music by Bernstein and book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. The film's cast is headed by Gene Kelly (who also co-directed with Stanley Donen) and Frank Sinatra. To Bernstein's displeasure, several of his original songs were replaced with new numbers created by Roger Edens.

On the Waterfront (1954), directed by Elia Kazan with Marlon Brando in the leading role, features an original film score by Bernstein, who was Oscar-nominated for his contribution. The film won Oscars in eight categories including Best Picture.

Young People's Concerts, a tradition of the New York Philharmonic since 1924, were the longest-running series of family concerts of classical music in the world. Bernstein arranged for the concerts to be televised on CBS-TV upon his arrival as the Philharmonic's music director in 1958. The shows were syndicated in more than 40 countries. Bernstein continued the concerts even after he left as the orchestra's conductor in 1969; they ran through March 1972. These are the Young People's Concerts screening on TCM: What Does Music Mean? (1958), Humor in Music (1959), What Is a Mode? (1966) and A Toast to Vienna in 3/4 Time (1967).

The award-winning series Omnibus was created in 1952 by the Ford Foundation in an effort to "raise the level of American taste." It ran at various times on CBS, ABC and NBC-TV through 1961 and had a brief revival in 1981. The show offered programming devoted to the arts, science and the humanities, with interviews and performances of notable performers and artists from various fields.

Bernstein gave his first televised music lectures on the show, including his well-remembered analysis of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (1954), in which he employs some of the composer's discarded sketches to show what the music might have been like if they were left in. The other Omnibus programs in our series include The World of Jazz (1955), The Art of Conducting (1955), The American Musical Comedy (1956), Introduction to Modern Music (1957), The Music of Johann Sebastian Bach (1957) and What Makes Opera Grand? (1958).

That final selection was another favorite of viewers of the series, illustrating the powerful effect of an opera's music. Among the demonstrations is one in which actor Hans Conried delivers dramatic readings in English as Marcello in La Boheme, followed by a singer who performs the same lines in the original Italian complete with musical scoring.

by Roger Fristoe

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