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The Pope’s Maestro. Gilbert Levine. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010. 456 pp. + DVD. ISBN 978-0-4704-9065-5

Reviewed by John T. Pawlikowski

The Pope's Maestro (Hardcover) ~ Gilbert Levine (Author) Cover Art

At the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II on May 1, 2011, a Brooklyn-born Jewish orchestra conductor had an honored seat in the audience. How this came to be for a traditional Jew with little prior contact with Catholic religious leaders is the basic narrative of this volume told from a first person perspective by Levine.

Levine’s grandparents emigrated to the United States from Poland. His mother-in-law is a survivor of Auschwitz.  He has been a distinguished conductor who has performed with leading orchestras in North America, Europe, and Israel. In 1987 Levine was invited to serve as a guest conductor of the Krakow Philharmonic for one week. This is where his story begins. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ignaz Friedman: Romantic Master Pianist. Allan Evans.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009. 399 pp. ISBN 978-0-253-35310-8

Ignaz FriedmanReviewed by Jonathan D. Bellman

Familiar phrases like “Romantic Master Pianist” or the “Golden Age” of Romantic pianism (cf. an excellent recent book by Kenneth Hamilton[1]) are problematic, because they imply the existence of a single tradition shared by the giants of bygone eras.  Rather, the greatest pianists of the past made their names by individuality, their independent artistic personalities and personal, often subjective interpretations of musical works that are now often normalized, more or less, into “the way this piece is played.”  Foremost among these fiercely independent superpianists was Ignaz Friedman, a Polish-born Jewish virtuoso whose memory and recordings are revered by pianists but whose reputation has, unavoidably, faded somewhat.  Although Friedman’s father was a peripatetic musician with limited skills at providing for his family, and his mother did most of the earning via needlework, their son’s prodigious musical gifts, which showed themselves early, were nonetheless never exploited commercially in his childhood.  His family’s search for favorable circumstances meant that he would live in Poland, America, Greece, Turkey, Hungary, and Germany before going to Vienna for a university education and to complete his piano training with the renowned Theodor Leschetizky, who also trained a variety of other virtuosi.  What all this meant was that Friedman would be among the best educated and most culturally well rounded of artists. Read the rest of this entry »