How We Met; Alan Dershowitz and Benjamin Zander

By Fox, Interviews Sue | The Independent (London, England), November 9, 1997 | Go to article overview
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How We Met; Alan Dershowitz and Benjamin Zander


Fox, Interviews Sue, The Independent (London, England)


Alan Dershowitz (far right), 58, was born in Brooklyn. A noted appellate lawyer, he defended OJ Simpson in his criminal trial, and his client list includes Claus von Bulow and Mike Tyson. He is also a newspaper columnist, broadcaster and writer of courtroom thrillers, including 'The Best Defence' and 'The Advocate's Devil'. He and his second wife, Carolyn, live outside Boston, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Benjamin Zander, 58, was born and educated in London, but has lived in America for over 30 years. Conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, he is much sought after in the UK and America as a lecturer on the subject of leadership. Zander has been married twice, and also lives in Cambridge

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: I knew of Ben long before we became friends because I love music and have always been a supporter of the Boston Philharmonic. I often sit at home listening to one of his recordings while I write. His Mahler 6 is wonderful. The critic of the American Record Guide called it the best recording of the work in existence. I wish he'd record the entire Mahler cycle.

One morning in 1983, just after The Best Defence was published, Ben called me completely out of the blue - my number's in the phonebook and I often have calls from real punters - to say he'd stayed up all night to finish the book. He wanted to let me know that it had made a big impression on him. This was a real pleasure, and the first of many interesting conversations. Ben was surprised that I already knew so much about him, and that I walk past his house every day on the way to my office in Harvard. In our family, it's become a tradition at Passover to invite friends over for Seder, the traditional meal. We usually have about 50 people, and all of us sit around the table telling stories. I knew Ben was Jewish, and thought he would enjoy celebrating with us, so I invited him. Since then, if he's in Boston for Passover, we take it for granted that he'll be with us. Four years ago, we had our Seder on the night Ben's father was dying in London. He talked to all of us about his father, an extraordinary man, to whom he was very close. He spoke about very private feelings and experiences, and the Holocaust. It was incredibly moving. There were things he'd withheld and suddenly felt he wanted to share with us. Until that moment, I'd always thought of Ben as a funny, provocative man. I'd never seen him open up in such an introspective way and I realised that there was another side to the outgoing, public Ben Zander who is such a huge force in the music community here. Although he's been in America for more than 30 years, I always think of Ben as quintessentially British. When he shared those profound feelings about his father with everybody in such an open way, I was suddenly aware that this hugely disparate group sitting around the table shared the same roots. Whatever our lives now, three generations ago, all of us came from the shtetl. As a complete contrast to celebrating Passover with us, we go to Ben's house to celebrate Boxing Day. He always gives a big party. Apart from Ben, none of us has any idea what Boxing Day is, but his parties are great and I'm constantly amazed by the number of different people he knows. Basically, Ben is to music what I am to the legal profession. The two of us are always defying conventional understanding; after all, what makes Ben so special and original as a conductor is that he doesn't conform - he's constantly going outside the accepted ways of making music. Sometimes I joke with him that we are the older versions of the original enfants terrible, always fighting windmills and bucking the establishment. It's cute to be radical and want to shape the world in your twenties and thirties, but in your fifties you're supposed to become more conservative. We laugh about that. Neither Ben nor I have changed our views over the years. My friends have supported me in my career, but there have been times when some of them have said, "Alan, this goes over the line" - particularly when I defended OJ Simpson, or Mike Tyson.

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