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Leonard Bernstein Looked For Escape In Florida, Only To Find Inspiration

color photo of Leonard Bernstein conducting
New York Philharmonic
Leonard Bernstein conducting a New York Philharmonic Young Peoples Concert, 1966

The year is 1941. War is raging in Europe.

Here on the home front, Leonard Bernstein is 23 years old, a student at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music and a mentee of two legendary conductors — Fritz Reiner and Serge Koussevitzky.

The charismatic Bernstein also has the eye of any number of willing young ladies, including Jacqueline "Kiki" Speyer, the daughter of the Boston Symphony Orchestra's longtime English horn player.

Speyer and Bernstein discussed marriage during summer 1941, but the idea ultimately didn't sit well with Berstein, who fled to Key West to gain some distance from the situation.

While in Key West, Bernstein started composing music for a ballet he called Conch Town. The ballet itself never materialized, but Bernstein recycled selections from that score in two later works, the ballet Fancy Free and the hit Broadway musical West Side Story.

The Danzón from Fancy Free still enjoys a nice career as a concert work and got featured billing when Bernstein conducted a performance of it in a 1966 New York Philharmonic Young People's Concert.


Leading up to the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein's birthday on Aug. 25, 2018, Classical 101 is celebrating A Bernstein Summer on air and online.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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