(Many thanks to Peter Dorbin and theÂ Philadelphia Inquirer for permission to use this article.)
November 25, 2012
By Peter Dorbin, Inquirer Culture Writer (Philly.com)
Would the symphony orchestra be better off if it somehow could be sequestered from such outside concerns as politics and moneyâthe greatest idealization of humanity cut off from humanity itself?
Such compartmentalization was not possible for Arturo Toscanini. On the day Hitlerâs troops entered Vienna in 1938, the great Italian conductor stormed out of rehearsal with his NBC Symphony and into his dressing room. âThere he barred the door to his family and friends,â according to a story retold in Cesare Civettaâs recently released The Real Toscanini: Musicians
Reveal the Maestro (Amadeus Press).
âHe threw scores on the floor, turned over chairs, kicked the table, tore at his clothes, and wept. For hours he went through this solitary lamentation.âÂ The scene spoke, in a way, for Toscaniniâs entire career. The conductor who would obsess for decades over a single note in a score was also a stalwart globalist, defying Mussolini and Hitler at cost to his career, getting beaten upâliterallyâfor refusing to conduct a fascist anthem, donating money to early Israel and World War II charities.
âToscanini was not able to separate art from daily life,â said the Buddhist sect leader Daisaku Ikeda. âFor him, pretending not to see injustice was not only stifling to his humanity but fatal to his art.â The connection between art and the larger world is viscerally sensed in The Real Toscanini.
It also suggests a way forward for an institution in trouble. Whether or not the orchestra today would be seeking greater relevance were its fortunes not in decline, the idea of making connections outside the concert hall, explored in the Toscanini book and two other new titles, now has undeniable momentum.
The Berlin Philharmonic does not just visit Carnegie Hall and leave; it also stops in Harlem to perform with students. El Sistemaâs star ensemble, the SimÃ³n BolÃvar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, which plays the Kimmel Center Dec. 5, lifts its young musicians from lives of poverty and chaos, and is more significant as a social phenomenon than a musical one, its evangelists argue. The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, started by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said, is matchmaker to Israeli and Arab musicians. Toscaniniâs spirit today infuses the orchestraâs embrace of society.
Most of Civettaâs book is devoted to transcripts of interviews about musicianly matters with those who played under himâhis musical philosophy, rehearsal technique, legendary musical memory, and devotion to the composerâs wishes. Woven throughout, though, is the portrait of a man whose saw music as something bigger.