Tales of a power flower photographer and an orchestra's masterful cameraman

Fresh new art to explore this summer

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Barbara Levy Kipper photographed these closeups of flowers with her iPhone.

Temperatures are growing increasingly balmy, and spring has sprung. So, here's a toast to gestating blooms-whether on your windowsill or in your backyard-and to the sound of beautiful chamber music ideally captured on video.

A bouquet of floral closeups:

Flowers have been the subject of great artists from the Dutch Masters of the 17th century to such painters as Monet, Van Gogh, Redon, and Georgia O'Keefe. Barbara Levy Kipper is not a painter, but she is a superb photographer whose passion for that art developed over many decades of global travel with her late husband, David Kipper.

For years, she carried around heavy camera equipment, but her recent photos-exquisite closeups of flowers-were taken with her iPhone.As she confesses: "I wouldn't say flower photography is an obsession, but I've kept my apartment filled with flowers during COVID. It really started from last Pesach, when I knew the seder table would have fewer people around it, but I still wanted it to be beautiful. Flowers also are willing subjects. They stay still-unlike the people and animals that are my usual subjects."

In addition to being an accomplished photographer, Kipper is a formidable philanthropist and art collector. In 1995, she and her husband played a crucial role in moving the Joffrey Ballet from New York to Chicago. And her passion for the art of India, Tibet, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and China's ethnic minorities was the source of a stunning 2016 exhibition mounted at the Art Institute of Chicago titled "Vanishing Beauty: Asian Jewelry and Ritual Objects," whose contents were acquired during the couple's travels. Kipper bequeathed the collection to the museum, and if you missed the exhibit you can see much of it online at artic.edu. Her photos of the many exotic locales she visited also were published by Shakti Books in a volume titled Journeys Places - Journeys People .

Capturing music on film:

This coming October will mark the 130th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but it's still anyone's guess if the full orchestra will be able to gather at Symphony Center to celebrate, and if Maestro Riccardo Muti will be able to fly back from his home in Italy to lead it.

In the meantime, since this past October, there has been CSOtv Sessions-a superb series of premium digital performances available for on-demand streaming in high definition. These concerts, featuring a wide range of classical music, are performed on the Orchestra Hall stage by various chamber-sized ensembles of CSO musicians meticulously distanced, COVID-tested, and-unless brass or wind players-masked. And it has become one of the finest virtual projects devised during the pandemic, as well as an ideal showcase of the sheer virtuosity of the musicians whose individual personalities are often subsumed in the unified grandeur of full orchestra concerts.

Deserving of great credit for the success of the series is Todd Rosenberg, for many years the photographer and videographer of the CSO, who, together with the musicians and other collaborators, including Muti, has been bringing the thrill of live performance into vivid close-up amidst all the luminous beauty of the hall.

"I cannot read music," Rosenberg confessed. And while he laughingly recalls his parents dragging him to the Ravinia Festival each summer to hear Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," he has grown to love classical music. Beethoven is a favorite, and he was deeply involved in photographing and filming concerts from the recent 250th anniversary celebration of the composer's birth that were abruptly halted by the pandemic last season.

"For the CSOtv episodes, we have eight camera setups, six of which are static but allow us to zoom in to get the motion of the musicians," Rosenberg explained. "And we have great help from Mike Manning, one of several score readers, who find the sparkle in each piece, and the moments when we should tightly focus on a principal player or players-something that is an immense help in the editing process. One thing I've also noticed is that because many of the musicians are wearing masks, and aren't focused as usual on a conductor, there is more eye contact among them, as, for example, when a violist and cellist seem to signal each other."

Rosenberg, who also has photographed and filmed for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, credits his experience with that art form in helping with the CSOtv project as well, noting that "great musicians, like great dancers, are athletes who move back and forth in incredible unison." In fact, Episode #16 of the CSOtv series, which runs through April 23, features Amanda Harberg's 2020 piece, "Hall of Ghosts," with CSO piccoloist/flutist Jennifer Gunn sharing the stage with Hubbard Street dancer Alyssa Allen in choreography by Jennifer Tong.

For full details about CSOtv and more, visit cso.org .


Hedy Weiss, a longtime Chicago arts critic, was the Theater and Dance Critic for the
  Chicago Sun-Times   from 1984 to 2018, and currently writes for   WTTW-TV's  website and contributes to the   Chicago Tonight   program.



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