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Classical 101

The Classical Music Legacy of Irving Penn (1917-2009)

THESE PHOTOS MENTIONED ARE COPYRIGHTED, WHICH MAKES THE POST A BIT DRY WITHOUT THEM Through his work as a Vogue fashion photographer, Irving Penn covered his subjects in an iconic, film noir-like patina of  elegance. As classical music lovers, how can we forget his photo of Kate Moss in all her cello-shaped glory? Arguably none of Penn's photos of those who worked within and interfaced with the classical music world have this kind of sex appeal. But there is a certain intellectual sexiness, if you will, in the fact that these images chronicle some of the creative giants who shaped the culture of today's Western world. Actually, Penn's images do much more than stand as witnesses to cultural history; they interpret the human beings behind such groundbreaking artworks as Petrushka, Guernica and 4'33''. Penn's photographs prove to us that the creative geniuses posing for the camera were flesh and blood like the rest of us, not deities resting at the heights of Parnassus. At the same time, they show us that these folks really were somehow different and give us a glimpse into their unusual creative temperaments, embossing their all-too-humanness in silver and gelatin - and in our minds - forever. Let's start with Penn's 1948 photograph of Igor Stravinsky, composer of The Firebird, Petruschka, The Rite of Spring and any number of works in his so-called neo-classical style. In Penn's photo, Stravinsky stands in an acute-angle corner (the same New York corner in which he photographed Marcel Duchamp and Truman Capote the same year), left ankle crossed over right, left hand cupping his ear as though in an effort to hear something - the next melodic idea? The voice of Diaghilev, the impresario for whom Stravinsky composed some of his best-known works? His expression is as intense as his music, his stance at once sinewy and brittle in its angularity. His right hand is folded into a fist, as though knocking - perhaps tapping one of his famously intricate rhythms? - against the wall of the narrow angle that, in the shape of a musical accent mark (>), at once traps him and spits him back toward the camera and the viewer. The setting for Penn's photo becomes a very emblem for Stravinsky, whose music is nothing short of a testament to the brute expressive force of modern music. It's well known that the artist Pablo Picasso was recruited to design sets for the ballet Pulcinella, for which Stravinsky composed the music. Picasso wrestled with some of the same aesthetic problems that kept Stravinsky and other Modernists up at night, not least of which was how to create beauty and reinterpret the traditions of art while updating them for an industrial age, an age that, as modern warfare proved, could unleash more destructive potential than could any previous era. Just as the linear, geometric choreography (by Mikhail Fokine) for Petrushka bespoke the modernists' tendency to reach back to primitivism, Picasso's famous cubist creations also look to essentialized, unapologetic expressions of a form in two dimensions rather than wishful implications of its three-dimensionality. In his 1957 photograph of Pablo Picasso, Penn turned the tables on the man who, in his cubist style, distilled the figure into its bare essence as a collection of shapes. Picasso's left eye beams through the geometry of the undulating brim of his hat and the linear edge of his coat collar. The play of light and shadow obscures Picasso's right eye completely and only hints at the line of his nose.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.