In what I hope is the last piece I shall write for a while on the Vienna Philharmonic in the Nazi era, I outline in the JC today the human toll of the orchestra’s willing complicity in Nazi crimes. You can read the article here.
As shameful as its collaborationism was the cover-up that members of the orchestra engaged in for almost 70 years, a conspiracy of silence that withheld salient facts from its own present chairman, Clemens Hellsiberg, when he wrote the official history 20 years ago.
Hellsberg now wants to maintain that the orchestra’s newfound transparency will draw a line under the past. It won’t.
First the VPO needs to eliminate discrimination on grounds of race, sex and religion. A student from the Arab world wrote to be privately this week complaining of the constant deprecations he experienced and witnessed while studying with a member of the orchestra. He could not leave Vienna fast enough. Much remains to be done on that front.
But first the orchestra needs to show contrition, and where better to do so in its most-watched event, a concert devised in 1939 as a Nazi propaganda showcase and still pulling 50 million viewers.
Let the New Year’s Day concert begin with a minute’s silence in memory of the musicians and audience members whom it abandoned and expelled during the Nazi era. If it does so, we’ll know the Vienna Philharmonic are ready and willing to rejoin humanity.
I await Professor Hellsberg’s response.
UPDATE: If you have a few moments, listen to Andrew Patner’s powerful radio commentary here.