One man above all embodies the 20th century struggle for supremacy between classical and popular music. Leonard Bernstein – composer, conductor, TV personality, concert pianist, educator and visionary – walked the tightrope between the two musical traditions long before the term ‘crossover’ was coined. Howard Goodall describes him as the ‘musical gatekeeper of America’s 20th century’, saying: ‘The music he composed over a 40-year career integrates classical with jazz and rock, sacred music from the Christian and Jewish traditions and European and South American rhythms.’
His great cultural landmark was West Side Story. This richly layered and ambitious musical reflected the reality of urban America, tackling challenging issues like racism, immigration and poverty which then, as now, were the everyday experience of many New York communities.