Conducting Culture: Leonard Bernstein, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Negotiation of Jewish American Identity, 1947-1967
Argyropoulos, Erica Kay
University of Kansas
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Leonard Bernstein’s relationship to his Jewish identity—his determination to nourish and sustain it—was one of the single most important aspects not only of his musical career, but also of his greater character. Throughout his life, his deep concern for his own Jewishness manifested as a persistent commitment to certain organizations. One of the most prominent of these was the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, originally known as the Palestine Symphony Orchestra. This dissertation is a contribution to our knowledge of Bernstein’s work in Israel and explains the significance of his relationship to the Israel Philharmonic between the years of 1947 to 1967, chronologically exploring milestones that saw the benefit and evolution of both parties. Bernstein stood by the orchestra during Israel’s pre-statehood battles, the War of Independence, and the resultant conflicts with the United Nations; he attracted prominent musical associates to the cause, such as his mentor, Serge Koussevitzky. He helped the orchestra to raise the necessary funds for their first international tour in America, leading them in that venture. Through the years, he lobbied for a permanent home for the orchestra, and when their dream was finally realized, he traveled to Tel Aviv in 1957 to lead the dedication concert. When Israel prevailed in the Six-Day War in 1967, he proclaimed the victory from a mountaintop in dramatic fashion in the historic Mount Scopus concert on 9 July 1967. For their own part, the orchestra was there to witness Bernstein’s rise to prominence. They celebrated his early victories as a composer by performing both of his first two symphonies; in 1963, they premiered Bernstein’s third and final symphony, Kaddish, in Jerusalem: a deeply personal work that touched upon their mutual traumas at the hands of the Holocaust—with the composer at the podium. Although the collaboration between Bernstein and the orchestra has been the subject of great romanticism, this document demonstrates that the story of their partnership is far more complicated than it appears on the surface. Despite the difficulties of personality and circumstance that arose between the two parties, however, they remained dedicated to each other. While Bernstein’s energies were primarily directed at the advancement of his career in the United States, he retained his relationship to the Israel Philharmonic as a major priority throughout his rise to prominence and beyond.
- Dissertations 
- Music Dissertations and Theses 
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