The story, of course, is deeply unfair to the Berlin Philharmonic - one of the very few top premier orchestras on the planet. And it is deeply distasteful to this here blogger, who vastly prefers not to deal with anti-Semitism at all, the subject being too murky and the term being overused and underused at the same time. What with its modern replacement helpfully called anti-Zionism and all that... no, people who know me also know that I try to shun the subject.
Be it as it may, here are the basics:
Kirill Petrenko, 43, a Russian-born Jew, was appointed last week to replace Sir Simon Rattle, who is leaving to take over the London Symphony Orchestra, in September 2018. Petrenko is currently the director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich.For those who don't study the life of conductors (the musical ones): they tend to move all over the globe in the course of their careers, and there is nothing surprising in the fact that a conductor born in Omsk (look it up on Google Maps) ends up in Berlin. So, geographically speaking, this is just another stage in the life of a musical genius.
Petrenko won the Berlin job despite only having worked with its musicians on three previous occasions. The orchestra made the announcement June 22 at a news conference at its concert hall in Berlin.
Racially speaking, however, the appointment stirred some hitherto invisibly smoldering ashes.
Petrenko stopped talking to the media following commentaries by Northern German Radio, or NDR, and Welt Online which used anti-Semitic tropes, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported. The offending material has been removed.And more:
NDR’s Sabine Lange, writing about Petrenko and a German-born contender for the position, described the latter — Christian Thielemann — as a world-renowned expert in the German sound and Petrenko as a mythical, dwarflike figure from Wagner’s operas, “the tiny gnome, the Jewish caricature.”
The Welt Online commentator said that while Petrenko and Thielemann were otherwise comparable, it was “a relief to many” that Petrenko enjoys good interpersonal relations, “as at least one of the female opera singers at this year’s Bayreuth [Wagner] Festival can attest.”
In response, readers noted the anti-Semitic stereotypes of overly competitive and oversexed Jews, and the articles were edited or removed, the Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten, or German Economic News online, reported.
If that’s not bad enough, Manuel Brug in Die Welt points out that three* leading conductors in Berlin are now Jews – Barenboim and Ivan Fischer are the others.While the quotes above look quite damning, they could do with some additional digging. Ms Lange used more or less the following wording: "When Christian Thielemann [a German conductor vying for the post that eventually was given to Petrenko] meets Petrenko at the Wagner's festival in Bayreuth it will be like Wotan meeting the dwarf Alberich, the Jewish caricature". The reference to the dwarf Alberich from Wagner’s opera as a Jewish caricature is quite telling. You see, Wagner himself, while being a rabid anti-Semite, never hinted that Alberich was meant to serve as an image of the much hated Jew. Indeed, out of many eminent critics of Wagner only Theodor Adorno held to this opinion, but this is neither here nor there. What is known, however, that during the Nazi period this comparison was widely espoused. The fact of a modern German culture expert referring to this caricature as something obvious is quite disturbing.
Another, seemingly minor but telling point, is the automatic identification of Kirill Petrenko, as well as Daniel Barenboim and Ivan Fischer as members of the Jewish tribe. The first man is of Russian/Austrian origins, the second of Argentinian extraction and the third a Hungarian - how does the learned music expert Manuel Brug establish Jewishness? For all he (and we all) know, Petrenko might be a Buddhist, Barenboim a Zoroastrian and Fischer a deeply religious Catholic or a practicing Seventh-day Adventist. But no, it was enough for Mr Brug to check the tribal belonging of these people's parents, and voilà: a Jewish invasion in the making! The method of identifying (or uncovering?) a Jew in these three cases smells of some olden times we all would like to put behind us, if not to forget (we wouldn't).
Yes, the articles were removed, but the aftertaste lingers:
Both reports were “bursting with anti-Semitic hatred,” one reader wrote to NDR, adding, “This is now apparently OK in Germany again.”Is it OK in Germany today? A good question that, but a subject for another post.
Many thanks to G.S. for the tip and even more thanks to Y.V. for generously giving me his precious time.
(*) Poor Mr Brug - at the time of writing this he wasn't aware of the depth of Jewish infestation of German music: a fourth Jew, Vladimir Jurowski will be the new Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra (RSB). Oh boy, oh boy... what would have Wagner said about it?