In the late 1950's, William S. Paley (who was founder and CEO of CBS) wanted to broadcast Young People's Concerts with America's "glam" emerging star, conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein. Columbia Records (a division of CBS) recorded Maestro Bernstein as well as the New York Philharmonic. Maestro Bernstein with his buddy, Roger Englander (they had known each other for over a decade) were suddenly juxtaposed on the project. Roger and Lenny met originally at Tanglewood and studied with Serge Koussevitzky. Roger, a highly trained musician, was self-effacing and fascinated with traditional music from theatre, opera and the serious classics. He was also intrigued by new media and new forms of technology and their impact on communication. Lenny was fascinated by all things and was flamboyant, theatrical, photogenic, had star power and oozed charm. Their collaboration became historic.
There had already been Young People's Concerts with assistant conductors conducting them, but television was changing the world. Bill Paley wanted the Young People's Concerts to be televised on CBS from the great Carnegie Hall.
Charlie Dubin was named director and Englander producer. Englander's right arm was Mary Rodgers, an imaginative, gifted woman and writer of children's stories raised in a house of music as the daughter of Richard Rodgers.
The format from CBS was: "Here's Carnegie Hall. Here's the Philharmonic. Here's Lenny. Let him talk and conduct. Go make a show."
Lenny created the format. Roger collaborated. Lenny loved being a teacher. His premise was "Tell them what you're going to do. Go do it. After you do it, explain it."
No script writers were hired. Lenny wrote it. No teleprompter, only brief notes on his podium and Lenny spoke extemporaneously.
Roger's job as a musician and as a producer interacting with Lenny was to make it a visual experience which would not be boring trying to make the audience comfortable and familiar with this new experience. At the same time, he had to teach cameramen the physical layout of an orchestra, how to call shots: Camera 1, get the horns, dissolve, go to the strings, he's getting ready to point to the timpani... all new experiences and techniques that cameramen never had before for a fast-moving, live television experience to work within Carnegie Hall and also resonate in homes across America.
Politics intervened when Charles Dubin, the director, was blacklisted. Roger Englander became director of the show and for 15 years, he directed and produced it.
Being a producer/director is a monumental responsibility.
Englander read each score. He would then try to think of how a choreographer would meld with the conductor and choreograph the camerawork and the musical experiences as though he were blocking actors on the stage, listening to prior recordings of the music over and over again and then discussing everything with Bernstein as a two-man collaboration. Once Bernstein felt comfortable and was satisfied, it allowed him to trust the television aspects of the show to Roger while he did magic with his baton, his personality, his intellect and his musicianship.
The same crew had to be used even though the shows were months apart because of their special experience, understanding and knowledge. Cameramen had to be taught what the instruments in the orchestra looked like, viz.: differences between the violin and viola, the flute and piccolo, the oboe and bassoon, etc. The concerts became popular. Ultimately, a global event!
It changed the world. It changed the way new technology (television) embraced and amplified the popularity of serious music.
Because the shows were so good, because Lenny was so bombastically charismatic, because Lenny and Roger worked so intimately and collaboratively, exchanging ideas and anticipating each other's moves and needs, a television style was invented that never before existed.
There was, however, one fallacy in the entire premise.
Concertgoers sitting in the auditorium may only see the back of the conductor waving his hands, keeping rhythm and getting dynamics out of the orchestra. It is not visually exciting from the seats of an audience's P.O.V.
Cameras were set up in different locations on different levels of Carnegie Hall. The only thing absent was the ability of the audience to see what Roger knew was the most exciting visual aspect seen only by members of the orchestra who were driven and led by this young, maniacally energetic, passionate conductor dancing and jumping as he conducted. Lenny's body and facial expressions were a show all to themselves and highly effective in terms of galvanizing the orchestra and infusing them with an adrenaline rush to keep up with his demands from the podium.
Roger said: "I don't want this show to be sterile. By the time an audience sees it at home, it's in a little box with a little screen and little speakers in black and white. I don't want their eyes to leave the screen. I don't want their ears to stop listening. I don't want them to leave the room."
His solution: A peep hole large enough to accommodate a TV camera of the day!
On May 7, 2012, a brass plaque will be dedicated - In Honor Of Roger Englander whose visionary "peep hole" (created in 1960) opened the eyes of children and music lovers worldwide to the magic behind the music - a simple hole which allowed for a bulky, cumbersome camera to look through and reveal an entire orchestra and the musical showman controlling and directing it and integrating himself with it as one. Behind the orchestra and conductor were tiers of seats and the elegance of Carnegie Hall. It was filled with young people and parents, all of them mesmerized. Balance that with perfectly paced close-ups of instruments responding to motions by the conductor, different angles and points of view that different audience groups could see and how they would see from the side, the center, from above or from behind was all a new style, a new flavor, a new way to make serious music, education and teaching exciting, more exciting and dynamic for the audience at home than anything they had ever seen. It was a cinematic intimacy and revelation.
Roger won four Emmy's for the Young People's Concerts. He and Lenny sustained a great relationship.
The "peep hole"* has now become de rigueur in concert halls throughout the world; all the result of the imagination and creativity of Roger Englander and his remarkable collaboration with a highly stimulating and exciting conductor who, in his youth, had enough pizzazz to drive sounds out of the Philharmonic and keep kids discovering music and an audience at home watching in a way that made them feel they were immersed in that world.
I'm so proud of Roger.
I'm so proud that he's our friend. I congratulate him as one of the unsung heroes who helps make the world a better place.
* The Roger Englander "peep hole" and plaque was initiated by a grant from Myrna and Freddie Gershon.
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