Ruth Orkin photographed Leonard Bernstein beginning in his early days as a conducting fellow at Tanglewood Music Center.
She captured many key Bernstein moments for decades: from conducting at Lewisohn Stadium with Marian Anderson, to sitting on the Tanglewood grass with Marc Blitzstein, to backstage with sister Shirley at a New York City Symphony concert. Her lens revealed many sides of Lenny: the conductor, the pianist, the educator, the performer, the dreamer, the man.
Here are some of our favorite Orkin photos from the 1940s and 1950s, and a reflection from Mary Engel, Orkin’s daughter on how Bernstein’s and Orkin’s legacies intertwined.
Photographs (from top left): Ruth Orkin captures many facets of Leonard Bernstein. 1-3: Bernstein conducting at Lewisohn Stadium (1947); 2: with Marian Anderson. 4: Bernstein playing piano at Lewisohn Stadium (1947). 5. Bernstein with Blitzstein at Tanglewood (1948). 6. Bernstein sits between Aaron Copland and Serge Koussevitzky at Tanglewood. 7: Bernstein singing at Tanglewood (1948). 8: Bernstein, Britten, Copland, Koussivitzky, and Corsini at Tanglewood. 9. Bernstein at a club (1947 or ’48). 10: Bernstein and sister, Shirley, backstage at Carnegie Hall (1950). 11. Bernstein with musicians. 12. Bernstein backstage.
Copyright: Ruth Orkin Photo Archive. Used by permission, courtesy of Mary Engel. All rights reserved.
Mary Engel remembers:
My mom, the photographer Ruth Orkin, knew Bernstein from one of her earliest assignments: when she was hired to take a photo of him with the New York City Symphony.
She really got to know him when she went to Tanglewood and photographed the rehearsals all summer in the late 1940s.
They became friends, and before she passed away in 1985, he offered to write the text for a book of all the photos. After she died, I asked if he would speak at her memorial, and he accepted.
It all came together beautifully.
He was attending opening night of the Metropolitan Opera with Franco Zeffirelli, and the memorial was at the Ethical Culture Society, a block away.
He seemed to slip in with his tux and tails — and caused quite a stir when people recognized him. I spoke briefly, and introduced him. He made some personal remarks about her, and also said a few words in Hebrew.
It was short, but very meaningful, and I will be forever grateful.
And she would have loved it. To top it off, Isaac Stern also spoke and played some Bach for my mom.
About this content
Engel’s memory of Bernstein appears in its original form on LeonardBernstein.com as part of the #Bernsteinat100 Memory Project.