Leonard Bernstein rehearsing in City Center’s studios.
For three years in the 1940s, Leonard Bernstein led “the youngest, poorest symphony in the world” at New York City Center. Working without a salary, Bernstein brought a daring assortment of symphonic works to the masses: Marc Blitzstein and Alex North premiered new works, celebrity pals like Orson Welles, Benny Goodman, and Paul Wittgenstein made guest appearances, and the 75¢ ticket price attracted working stiffs who yelled “Hello, Lenny!” from the second balcony when their maestro came onstage. One critic called it a “love feast,” and Bernstein never forgot that love. “I had the best time of my life there,” he said in 1983. “I cut my teeth as a conductor there.” We decided to look back at Bernstein’s salad days at City Center, which began on his 27th birthday: August 25, 1945.