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Adored conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein has left a legacy on the world unlike any of his modern contemporaries. He was known as the American composer, and when he took to the stage audiences would take notice. Here are a few snippets of the great man’s life:

Louis Bernstein was born in 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

At age 10 Louis played the piano for the first time, and as such a love of music was born.

After being nicknamed “Leonard” his entire life, Louis legally changed his name when he was only 15 years old.

In 1943, at age 25, he stepped in to conduct the New York Philharmonic with no rehearsal, replacing an ill Bruno Walter. The concert was such a success that it appeared on the front page of the New York Times, which declared: ‘It’s a good American success story. The warm, friendly triumph of it filled Carnegie Hall and spread far over the air waves.’

Bernstein made his first overseas appearance in 1946 conducting the Czech Philharmonic in Prague. This passionate, career defining performance can be seen here:

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He was appointed Music Director of the New York Philharmonic in 1957, becoming the first American-born and trained music director of a major world orchestra.

Known for his talents as a music educator, Leonard Bernstein had an ability to teach audiences in a way that was unlike anyone before him. In this clip from 1954 he unpacks Beethoven’s most famous work, the Fifth, in a truly unique way.

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In 1960, only three years after its Broadway debut, Melbourne became the second city outside of the US to hold its own production of West Side Story.

A celebrated man of the theatre, Leonard Bernstein successfully made the transition from stage to screen with his already hit musical, West Side Story, being released as a feature film in 1961. It went on to win ten Academy Awards®, making it the most successful musical film of all time!

In August 1974 Bernstein made his Australian debut with the New York Philharmonic. Performing to sell out audiences across the country, the maestro’s Melbourne debut at the Melbourne Town Hall filled the 1,600 seat house three times over!

Throughout his career Bernstein would write ‘anniversaries’ and dedicate them to a friend or family member. In 1988 he had the world talking when his latest anniversary was dedicated to neither a friend, nor relative. Instead it was dedicated to Ellen Goetz, a champion of his work who travelled around Europe attending as many of Bernstein’s concerts as possible, spreading the world about her hero.

It was in late 1990 that the musical great passed away, a mere five days after retiring.

West Side Story returned to Broadway 52 years after it was first written, and sold more than 1 million tickets over its two year run.

Jake Gyllenhaal is set to produce and star in a biopic about the great composer’s life titled The American.

Throughout July and August we’ll be celebrating the life of Leonard Bernstein with film screenings, concerts, talks, and free performances at NGV.

Stay tuned. Sign up.