jstandard: Should Bard's Leon Botstein Celebrate the AntiSemite Richard Wagner?

No. Botstein should not bring Wagner to Bard.

In part it's because we sat through Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots last Sunday watching Leon Botstein slog his way through four hours of conducting, while we were thinking about this question.

But mainly it's just that these articles by Warren Boroson are so thorough and critical in exploring the question in Teaneck's Jewish Standard, namely, Should Bard's Leon Botstein celebrate the antiSemite Richard Wagner?

Boroson has done some impressive research on Wagner and spent some face time with Botstein. He put together an impressive exploration of the evil man Wagner, the energetic conductor Botstein, and the odd decision one Jew made made to celebrate the Jew hater par excellence of the Western music.

Botstein has made a bad choice and it bothers us.

His music festival at Bard is a public community event which should under no circumstances valorize a rabid antiSemite. Period.

More troubling though is what Botstein says in defense of Wagner about the coincidence of creative genius and aberrant behavior. He makes some sweeping generalizations that we have often heard, and even uttered ourselves in some contexts of our youth.

Towards to beginning of our teaching career, in a large lecture class, we once said something like what Botstein espouses, along the lines that creativity and kookiness go together.

We got an immediate, strong, palpable unspoken reaction from our students. They told us without saying a word, through their quizzical looks, their body language and their breathing, that what we had said to the class was more than factually wrong.

It was insulting to all creative artists and performers. Since that day, we never made that mistake again.

Botstein, saying more explicit words to the same effect in his newspaper interview and in his lectures, has chosen to insult his artistic colleagues, known and unknown, by his nonsensical general statements about their personalities, spoken as some kind of bizarre defense of Richard Wagner.

And he has chosen to insult his Jewish neighbors by deliberately producing Wagner's work. There is no excuse for this behavior. It is wrong.

We ask him to stop. It is not too late to cancel Wagner at Bard.

Here are the links to the must read stories from Warren Boroson and the cover story from the Jewish Standard:
Richard Wagner: The devil who had good tunes
Warren Boroson • Cover Story

Composer Richard Wagner’s feelings about Jews were summarized in his statement that “I hold the Jewish race to be the born enemy of pure humanity and everything noble in it.”

His virulent anti-Semitism poses a painful problem for music-lovers and particularly for Jews. He was not only a despicable human being but a great artist, and we want to believe that all geniuses are decent human beings — kind, generous, fair, selfless, and modest....

1 comment:

Richard said...

Richard Wagner was not a Nazi per se, but he was certainly part of the platform of German Antisemitism in the nineteenth century that enabled the rise of Nazi Germany. Historically, the emergence of European Romanticism in that period led to a number of racial, antisemitic, and nationalistic aberrations that have been glossed over by history. The Dreyfus affair in France being one of them. And the anti Jewish and anti socialist Catholic revivals (spear headed by Popes Pius XI and Pius XII) being another.

You are right, the artistic expressions of this movement are no cause for celebration.