The unvoiced thoughts and ideas of a septegenarian.


on March 13, 2012



            It isn’t often I read a book I will never forget. Heidi, which I read when I was about eight years old, is one of the few. Two others are 84 Charing Cross Road (Helene Hanff and Aphrodite: A Memoir Of The Senses (Isabel Allende). Heidi because it was escapism to the Alps for a young girl living in not very idealistic circumstances. 84 Charing Cross because of its wit and the passion displayed by the author. Aphrodite because of its marvelous descriptive language and amusing accounts of the relationship between food and sex.


Recently I read another. This one I will remember because it is a powerful story of cross-cultural friendship, human transformation and reconciliation.


The Pope’s Maestro is a first-person account of a 17-year relationship between Gilbert Levine, an American Jewish conductor, and Pope John Paul II, who, in furtherance of his wish to improve Catholic-Jewish relations, commissioned Levine to conduct a series of signature memorial concerts. Initially the Pope asked Levine to conduct a concert commemorating the 10th anniversary of his Pontificate. Later he requested a “Papal Concert to Commemorate the Holocaust” which was the first officialVatican commemoration of the Nazi genocide during WWII. The music featured Leonard Bernstein’s Third Symphony (Kaddish).  There were several others over the course of the 17 years, all broadcast worldwide. The concerts are all available on disc.


At the time they first met, Levine had just accepted a position as conductor of the Krakow Philharmonic. Thus, there is the background of an artist being controlled by the Communist government at the same timePolandwas struggling to free itself of Communism. To that must be added a Jewish conductor whose mother-in-law was a Holocaust survivor, the improbable friendship between him and the Pope, as well as wonderful descriptions of the music selected for the concerts and the result is an unforgettable story.


Highly recommended.

Julie Rose



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