Photographing Genius

Just about now, all over the world, symphony halls are resonating with the music of Leonard Bernstein. It is the centennial observance of the maestro’s birthday. I was privileged to work with him on a number of occasions. He could be difficult, mercurial, tempestuous–all those things. But, if you could hang on through it, much like an intense roller coaster ride, at the end, when you would come to rest and put your camera down, you knew your lens had glimpsed true genius.

Bernstein at 100 is an almost two-year observance, started last year, celebrating the music and impact of Lenny. For the art world, any art world, to continuously celebrate the life and times of one individual for two years, that individual had to literally be a giant. And he was. Well and truly.

I photographed him in portrait sessions, and working, composing, with his family, and deep in thought. Only once was I able to observe him conducting, up at Tanglewood, in a summer session. That was quite a negotiation with the admin of the music center. But Lenny’s magnetism won out. (The fact I was shooting a cover for Newsweek helped. And of course, the cover never ran.)¬† I shot during the performance, carefully, sparingly, from the wings, hoping and praying my camera clicks would go unnoticed.

Lenny was a powerfully emotional man, and I finally saw and felt how a conductor could physically energize and lead an extraordinary group of musicians, and elevate the impact of the music. It was wonderful to see that through the lens, and to be proximate to the orchestra as the notes flew off their instruments and washed over the audience.

There was a great deal of pain, and joy, etched in Lenny’s face, making it a constantly interpretive, moving landscape to try to follow with a lens or a light.

Even when he could be difficult, I loved the time I spent with him, camera in hand. He left us all with an astonishing array of gifts. Who hasn’t walked¬†down a city street and heard the echoes of the Jet Song? Or thought about being in love and heard the strains of Maria?

Lenny grabbed a hold of life and love, put it to music and gave it back to us. Truly a life worth celebrating.

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