West Side Story

Bernstein’s almost-an-opera musical, West Side Story, set in New York is his masterpiece. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it’s moving, uplifting and tautly scored.

Recommended recording:
Te Kanawa, Carreras, unnamed orchestra/Leonard Bernstein
DG 457 1992


A slightly crazy – and flawed – piece that doesn’t sound quite as ‘with it’ as it would have done in 1971. But there are magical moments, including ‘Simple Song.’

Recommended recording:
Jubilant Sykes (baritone), assembled choirs, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop
Naxos 8.559622-23

Chichester Psalms

The Psalms are Bernstein’s version of church music. While the works have elements of musical theatre, it’s
spiritually uplifting and sincere music.

Recommended recording:
Bournemouth Symphony Chorus & Orchestra/Marin Alsop
Naxos 8.559177

Trouble in Tahiti

Bernstein’s 45-minute opera about a loveless marriage stars just two people. Copland and jazz emerge as clear influences in this stifling work.

Recommended recording:
Kim Criswell, Rod Gilfry, Munich Radio Orchestra/
Ulf Schirmer
BR Klassik 403571900300

Symphony No. 3 (Kaddish)

Dedicated to JFK and often interpreted as a memory to victims of the Holocaust, Bernstein’s finest orchestral work is scored for speaker, choir and orchestra.

Recommended recording:
London Oratory School, BBC Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin
Chandos CHAN 10172


Freya ParrDigital Editor and Staff Writer, BBC Music Magazine

Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.