Book Review: Leonard Bernstein 100: The Masters Photograph the Maestro
Any musical theater lover knows West Side Story. Any experienced classical musician has performed Candide Overture multiple times. Any dedicated New York Philharmonic patron will praise composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein’s leadership.
The musical legend Leonard Bernstein is being celebrated this year on the centennial anniversary of his birthday by fans, artists, and musicians alike. One hundred of the best photos of Bernstein, taken by unknown and well-known photographers across his life, have come together in a new book by Steve J Sherman and Leonard’s daughter Jamie Bernstein in Leonard Bernstein 100: The Masters Photograph the Maestro.
Organized chronologically, the book explores Bernstein’s journey from a young child to a musical icon, combining many stunning photographs taken of Bernstein throughout his life.This work aspires to show the symbiosis of photography masters, including Gjon Mili and Irving Penn, capturing “the maestro” Bernstein during his career, according to the foreword by Sherman. He writes that at the time many of the photographers and Bernstein himself were becoming established in their craft, but looking back one can see the powerful combination of these known well established masters in their work.
“The 100 that made it [into the book] did so primarily for two reasons: their photographic and artistic merit as an individual image,” Sherman said in the preface, “and the piece of the story they tell when integrated into an essentially chronological photo essay that presents the story of Bernstein’s multifaceted and deeply complex life.”
The book starts with early photos of Bernstein, leading into his time as a Harvard student, and then his rise to fame as a 25-year-old conductor with the New York Philharmonic, up through his last concert and burial. These photos show Bernstein’s energetic personality, handsome looks, and thoughtful mind in action through photos of both his personal and professional life.
Bernstein is unparalleled in his field given his success as a composer in multiple genres and a conductor. Bernstein’s three children, Jamie, Alexander, and Nina, sat in conversation with Sherman discussing their father’s life and legacy for the collection’s forward. They pointed to Bernstein’s multifaceted talents.
“You talk to anybody who knew him before 1943 [prior to Bernstein’s career with the New York Philharmonic], and they say they had met a genius, this guy was gonna take over the world, he was so handsome, charismatic, brilliant, talented...it was all there,” Alexander Bernstein said. His father had the whole package that even the most successful in music do not normally possess, “It’s as if Lin-Manuel Miranda were also a world-class conductor.”
Leonard Bernstein’s captivating energy and intense depth are shown through the photos included in the book. The collection also includes many documents from Bernstein’s life, such as early drafts of compositions and handwritten letters.
Beyond memorializing Bernstein’s life, the book is a testimony to the changes in the American lifestyle and fashion during the 20th century. Across the decades of photographs included, Bernstein develops alongside the culture of American life. This can be seen through the juxtapositions between photographs, such as 1950s family-focus compared to the flamboyant 1970s.
While Bernstein may be closer to our time, he will be remembered just as much as Bach and Beethoven in musical history thanks in part to the work of many amazing photographers. To see this celebration of Bernstein’s life, check out Powerhouse Books’ Leonard Bernstein 100: The Masters Photograph the Maestro available now.