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America’s Classical Rock Star: Where to Celebrate Leonard Bernstein at 100

By Gail Eichenthal and Sheila Tepper

Leonard Bernstein, 1945 | Photo by Fred Palumbo/Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Wherever you may be travelling this summer, there’s a good chance the music of Leonard Bernstein will come along for the ride. From Vienna to Vancouver, from Indiana to Iran, orchestras, opera companies, choirs, and museums are paying tribute to the centenary of this staggeringly versatile and influential composer, conductor, pianist, educator, music theater icon, TV personality, and the man whom LA Times Music Critic Mark Swed calls “America’s greatest musician.”

Bernstein protégé Michael Tilson Thomas believes the enduring popularity of his mentor goes beyond the now iconic recordings and compositions, like West Side Story, Candide, and Chichester Psalms: “He created the mold, the model for the socially responsible, inclusive, generous maestro,” says Tilson Thomas. “He was like, hey, we’re all in this together. Let’s explore together.” It’s something people still get, still aspire to.”

Leonard Bernstein, 1973 | Photo by Allan Warren

Around the state, the 100th birthday downbeat began as early as last year, with major events by the San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Opera, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and many more. As the actual 100th birthday looms August 25th, there are still many concerts to come, among them:

The California Philharmonic mixes Beethoven and Bernstein on its August 12 concert at Disney Hall. The Pasadena Pops and Michael Feinstein mine “Bernstein’s New York” on August 18 at the LA County Arboretum. At the Hollywood Bowl, September 11, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the LA Philharmonic perform The Age of Anxiety, Bernstein’s Second Symphony.

Beethoven and Bernstein come together on the California Symphony’s September 23rd celebration at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts. On November 3, the Santa Rosa Symphony will fill the Green Music Center with Bernstein’s music. And the Berkeley Symphony joins in the fun January 31, 2019 at Zellerbach Hall.

And for a deep dive into Bernsteiniana, head to the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where Leonard Bernstein at 100 is on view through September 2. This multi-faceted retrospective of Bernstein’s life and music, curated by LA’s GRAMMY Museum, showcases more than 150 artifacts, including Bernstein’s conducting score for Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, complete with the “Mahler Grooves” bumper sticker on the front. From West Side Story, there are original scores and posters. You can even add your voice to the soundtrack of “America.”

From “Leonard Bernstein at 100” at the Skirball Cultural Center | Photo by Susie Goodman

GRAMMY Museum Executive Director Robert Santelli says, “Bernstein was a genius—exceedingly complex—but he was also a rock star. He had Hollywood good looks, charisma and style, and a sense of awareness that made him absolutely magnetic.”

The composer’s son, onetime teacher Alexander Bernstein, says his favorite part of the Skirball exhibit is his father’s stand-up desk. “I just see him hovering there in his bathrobe and slippers, poring over scores he’s studying or scores he’s writing. What I hope people will come away with is the sense that everything he was—composer, conductor, pianist, writer, TV personality, humanitarian—are interwoven. His life encompasses all these pillars. And he was an educator in all he did.”

Alexander Bernstein, Leonard Bernstein’s son | Photo by Susie Goodman

The desk where Bernstein composed and studied orchestra scores | Photo by Susie Goodman

Leonard Bernstein at 100 is on view at the Skirball Cultural Center through September 2. For more information go to

Written by:
The Classical Team
The Classical Team
Published on 04.01.2019