Leonard Bernstein
An American Life

WFMT Special Features

Leonard Bernstein - An American Life

A Life That Changed Musical History

Leonard Bernstein An American Life is a groundbreaking 11-part documentary series illuminating the life and work of musical titan Leonard Bernstein. The series of 60-minute programs is narrated by Academy Award-winning actress Susan Sarandon.

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was the last classical musician of our time to be a household name; no one since has achieved the level of fame with the general public as Bernstein. Bernstein became an American icon not only because of his ability to conduct and compose, but also because of the power of his personality and his passion to communicate, through music, about life, love and the human condition. Youngsters (and adults) in the 1960s and beyond were the beneficiaries of Bernstein's intense music making and insightful commentary on his Young People's Concerts.

This radio event took six years to produce. It is, says producer Steve Rowland, "a story – a profound and multi-layered story with many fascinating twists: the number and variety of people, places, ideas and artistic issues that Bernstein worked with, came into contact with, and ultimately affected is stunning. And on top of his extraordinary talents in music, as a composer, a conductor, a performer and educator, there was still more: He occupied a place in American culture as a voice of conscience, a voice for peace, a supporter of democracy in its broadest vision, and a force working to bring the world together through music and art. These 11 hours of radio tell a monumental story."

Virtually every aspect of Bernstein's career and life is explored through the words of Bernstein's own correspondence as well as interviews with more than one hundred people who knew and worked with him. These luminaries include John Adams, Marin Alsop, Betty Comden, John Corigliano, Adolph Green, Bobby McFerrin, Hal Prince, Mary Rodgers, Mstislav Rostropovich, Stephen Sondheim, and many others. Bernstein's family also participates in the production. His brother Burton, son Alexander, and daughters Nina and Jamie all appear through their thought-provoking interviews and readings.