Question: Have you had any political difficulties playing with
the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra? Leon Botstein
I’ve experienced several kinds of criticism. Number one, when we were on
tour last year, there was a threatened protest at the University of
Michigan because we are the radio orchestra of the State of Israel, so
there is a growing sentiment on American campuses which is anti-Israel.
There are talks of boycotts. There is a lot of anti-Israel sentiment.
And we picked up a little bit of that. In addition, the extremely
articulate anti-Zionist, anti-Israel intellectual group views me as a
kind of apparatchik for the Zionist state.
So they’re very
suspicious of me for taking this position, which I have had for seven
years, which I do, by the way, without compensation. I take no fee. I do
it, I give my fee back to the orchestra. So there is a little bit of
pushback. On the other side, since Bard has the only dual-degree program
between an American university and a Palestinian, we have a cooperation
with Al-Quds University on the West Bank for a Master’s degree program
training teachers, an honors college and we’re building two high
schools. I’ve been attacked by the Zionist right for being too
cooperative with the Arab population and being in favor of a two-state
solution, and so the Israeli right doesn’t share my point of view.
so this cooperation between an American university and a Palestinian
has not earned me some friends on the right. So I’ve been attacked from
both sides as a result of my involvement in Israel. But the problem is
that I would have liked to see the Jerusalem Symphony reach out to all
of the residents in Jerusalem, including the residents of East
Jerusalem. But it’s very hard. It’s a very polarized situation. I’m not a
citizen of the State of Israel, so I’m there as a foreigner and as a
guest. So I try to stay away from politics as much as possible. So, by
and large we’ve had good luck but there’s been some criticism, not as
much as I might have expected. Question: Can music be
an instrument of peace?
No, I don’t
think music can be an instrument of peace. It is an instrument that can
be a common ground. You know, there’s a lot of talk about music being a
universal language. But it is, in other words it’s fascinating to see
different cultures want to play the same repertoire and the same music. A
Chinese orchestra, Japanese orchestra, Venezuelan orchestra.
Vietnamese, there are three classical orchestras in Hanoi. So it is
perfectly compatible with multiple identities. You can be a nationalist,
Chinese nationalist, and love Beethoven, but you can also be a Nazi and
love Beethoven. You can be a freedom fighter, anti-fascist and love
So everybody owns it and nobody owns classical music.
It’s a common ground. But it is not itself a builder of peace. One
would hope that our sense of being musical, that you’re musical and that
I’m musical and that we both enjoy music, we might enjoy the same
music, would lead us to respect each other. But that hasn’t happened
with language. You know, we’ve killed people who speak the same language
we do for other reasons. The color of the skin was different, their
religion was different, their political views were different, their
gender was different, their sexual preference was different, but they
speak the same language. Somehow the fact that you and I speak the same
language is not enough for me in the larger sense to respect the
sanctity of your own life.
So I’m going to go to war against you
even though we speak the same language, nominally. So music is much the
same thing. It’s an illusion to think that it is an instrument of
Recorded on May 10, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman