Swans Commentary » swans.com June 30, 2008  



Shooting Szell In Cleveland


by Art Shay



Pic: "February 22, 1963, Time Cover" - Courtesy of Art Shay - Please do not steal - Size: 16k
February 22, 1963, Time Cover
Courtesy of Art Shay



(Swans - June 30, 2008)   George Szell wanted to orchestrate his February 22, 1963, Time cover at Severance Hall.

At the podium he traded his baton for my zoom-heavy Nikon, looking through the finder.

"You veel seet viz ze wiolins und I veel conduct you ven eet ees ze best peecture. I myself make many peectures all over ze vorld. I know ze best moment. Nikon ees too heavy and noisy. Leica ees best. German, of course." His wife's nod assured me Szell was telling ze truth on all counts.

"Protect me," George Bernard Shaw muttered, "from the gifted amateur."

Szell raised his glasses, fitting my minus three finder to his God-knows-what eye.

He zoomed away the violins, pulled in the timpani, then playfully oscillated the self-swallowing trombones. He painfully scanned the English horns. A flat untimely F in their Til Eulenspiegel warm up.

I noticed the baton had been made in a German city I had bombed during my war. Could this gentle stick have been a splinter honed and sanded from a surviving railroad tie? A tie supporting tracks that switched people like Szell and me east to death camps in Poland?

Pic: "Conductor George Szell makes light of Tchaikovsky..." - © 1963 Art Shay - Please do not steal - Size: 25k

We traded back our instruments and he sat me, "but only for ze Brahms," behind a dozen fiddlers, sending me off with his left hand, said by my reporter to be the finest in all of modern music.

"I veel vave so, yes?" he said, "ven ze peecture is perfect." He arced his Ruhr baton.

My eye stalked and nailed him amongst the fluttering bows that sawed a hundred Feininger geometrics around his head, equilateral sails, elastic hexagons, instant Mondrians through my bulky old Sports Illustrated 85 to 250. He hated my noisy shutter.

My first cue came as the bows subsided two beats after he had awakened four French Horns from their stable. His baton twitched twice for me as he showed his large teeth. I missed the first twitch then faked receiving the second, finishing my shoot during the flashy finale. "Vas I not right?" he said. "Ja wohl," I lied.

Next day, in his home, against my black backdrop, he patiently conducted a Tchaikovsky march for me, my tiny flashlight taped to his baton as with my quiet wartime Leica I transmogrified his spirited waving into streaks of light.

As I opened my shutter with my famous right hand, directing him to begin, he twice missed my cues or clowned that he did for the fawning Clevelanders around us. My copycat Time cover artist also ignored his teeth.


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The Democratic Convention -- Chicago 1968 - Art Shay, June 2, 2008

Art Shay's Traces Of A Bygone America - Karen Moller, June 2, 2008

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About the Author

Art Shay is the author-photographer of more than fifty books, the former staff Washington correspondent for Time-Life and Life Bureau Chief in San Francisco. Shay has had 25,000 published pictures including 1,050 covers of magazines, books, and annual reports for such clients as Ford, 3M, National Can, Motorola and ABC-TV. His pictures hang in the National Portrait Gallery (Heffner, Durocher, Robert Crumb) in the Chicago Art Institute. His work is currently exhibited at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art (through June 29, 2008) following an exhibition at the Gallerie Albert Loeb in Paris, France. The April 2008 issue of North Shore magazine (Chicago) says that "his pictures have the psychology of Dostoevsky, the realism of Hemingway, and the metaphor of Melville... He's in the Pantheon of great photographers such as Cartier-Bresson, Brassai, Strand, and Stieglitz." The Daily Herald (Chicago suburban) of May 5, 2008, called him "the pre-eminent photojournalist of the 20th century..."



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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art14/ashay02.html
Published June 30, 2008