Like the sweeping passion of his most famous compositions, Maria and Somewhere from West Side Story (1957), Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) captured the unnamable and unknowable with his music.
"I can't live one day without hearing music, without playing it, studying it, or thinking about it," said the flamboyant artist who with the self-described "eclectic" music style successfully integrated classical with popular music.
"Technique is communication," he explained. "The two words are synonymous in conductors."
Born Louis Bernstein on this day in Lawrence, Massachusetts, his family added a piano to the home when he was 10 and he took to it. As a young musician he played blues and jazz and developed skill in creating dramatic rhythms. In 1958, he became Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, the oldest and most prestigious of all major American orchestras.
When the Berlin Wall in Germany was torn down in 1989, Bernstein led an historic Christmas performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on both sides of the Wall. "My life is, I think, dedicated to communication, to sharing the wonder of experience with other people."
Bernstein's legacy lives on. His Mass, a monumental celebration of faith and music, was composed for the opening of Washington D.C.'s Kennedy Center in 1971. With revised lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, the brilliant piece was resurrected in August 2004 by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Music can capture the unnamable and unknowable.