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Criticising the critics 3a: the casual, off-the-shoulder slur

There is a classic non sequitur in James Oestreich’s account of Salzburg’s sacred prelude to its summer festival, in Wednesday’s New York Times. In praise of an Israel Philharmonic concert consisting of Schoenberg’s Kol Nidrei and Noam Sherriff’s Mechaye Hametim, Oestreich writes:

The concert was greeted warmly, even clamorously, by an almost full house. This, in a city with a long tradition of anti-Semitism, came in striking contrast to, say, the Israel Philharmonic’s reception last September at the London Proms, where hecklers, injecting current Middle East politics, disrupted a concert.

Hello? What’s the connection? The Israel Phil’s concert at the Proms (not attended apparently by Mr Oestreich) was also greeted warmly, even clamorously – the more so after a handful of protesters were ejected. Other concerts in London by the Israel Phil have been equally well received.

The disrupted Prom was an isolated political incident, relating to the Middle East and with no direct antisemitic connotation (though some of the protesters might not stand up too well under racialist questioning). It happened. It’s over. London was the capital of the war against Hitler. It is a tolerant, multicultural city.

To compare London and its audiences unfavourably on antisemitic traditions with Salzburg, where Jews were expelled and murdered within living memory, is a travesty of logic and history. As criticism goes, it’s off the wall – sloppy, misinformed and prejudiced.

It reads like a Mitt Romney review.

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  1. Hey, wait just a minute: Romney was an early, devoted Sherriff supporter!

  2. I’ve noticed that Mr. Oestreich often tries to cast Austria in the most positive light possible. It is almost humorous that his name, Oestreich, is the German word for Austria. His support the country is fine, except when it becomes less than factual, or when his remarks seem specious – as in the example you mention. He is also an apologist for the Vienna Philharmonic in spite of its much criticized employment practices. He is the music editor for the NY Times and his biases often influence the music section of the paper.

    Salzburg is so rightwing that it had a Freedom Party Mayor in the late 90s. The party is known for xenophobia and radical right stances. The party’s now deceased leader, Jörg Haider, praised Hitler’s economic policies and referred to the SS as heroes. And he referred to the concentration camps as “punishment camps.” It would be unlikely for the mayor of London to come from such a Party, but you won’t hear much about this from “Mr. Austria.”

    • I double checked, and discovered that my above post is mistaken. The Burgermeister of Salzburg through most of the 90s was Josef Dechant, a member of the conservtive Volkspartei, though the Freiheitspartei has long had a notable presence in Salzburg’s political life.

      Dr. Karl Schnell is a Freedom Party Landtagsabgeordneter for Salzburg. As a typical example of FPÖ political views, he has said that the mainstream conservative parties in Germany and Austria are to blame for the fact that “black Africans in Lederhosen work as waiters and serve beer in Munich.” Karl Schnell has a degree in medicine. Perspectives such as Schnell’s are not uncommon among the more educated, middle class people of Germany and Austria.

      Thilo Sarrazin, a former Finance Minister of Germany and a politician in the SPD, has written a book criticizing the effects of foreigners on German society which has sold over 1 million copies. He has also made controversial remarks about the genetic idenity of Jews. See:

      It is the presence of such views among middle class people that allow orchestras such as the Vienna Philharmonic to continue sexist and racist employment practices.

      Here is an article about xenophobia and authoritarianism in Germany with some interesting and rather astounding statistics:

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