Beautiful New York

A Celebration of the City

The Top 100 Greatest New Yorkers — #3

Leonard Bernstein (1918 – 1990)


Longtime director of the New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein was an anomaly – a young American-born conductor of classical music at a time when the concert halls were dominated by old European maestros. But, while Bernstein’s prowess as one of the 20th century’s greatest conductors, together with his insatiable patronage of the New York City arts scene (filled with museum memberships, theatre season subscriptions, etc.) is formidable, it is in his work as a composer that he made his greatest mark upon the city and its image in the world. Bernstein is the closest figure mid-century New York City has to a Victorian London’s Charles Dickens or a 20’s Dublin’s James Joyce. Though those icons were literary artists, while Bernstein is a musical artist, the comparison remains apt when we consider how intrinsically the city is made into a character in each of his works. The diversity of his training and experience, and his devotion to a fusion of many musical styles, echoes the hodgepodge of New York’s melting pot. With works like On the Town, Wonderful Town, and of course West Side Story, he presents song, dance, character, plot, mood, and spectacle so inextricably linked to its metropolitan setting, they could not take place anywhere else. With these shows, Bernstein laid bare the heart and soul of the city to the rest of the world more vividly than any other artist before or since.



  1. Leonard Bernstein, originally from Brookline, Mass became friends with an improvisational troupe called the Revuers, Adolph Green, Betty Comden, and Judy Holliday née Judy Yomtov.
    They performed at the Village Vanguard and Lenny would occasionally sit in at the piano as their accompanist


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