Newspaper article International New York Times

Glorious Vienna, Warts and All ; City of Dreams Festival Will Also Focus on Bleaker Aspects of a Rich History

Newspaper article International New York Times

Glorious Vienna, Warts and All ; City of Dreams Festival Will Also Focus on Bleaker Aspects of a Rich History

Article excerpt

Not everything will be festive in a three-week New York celebration, Vienna, City of Dreams; the bleaker aspects of its history will be examined in some detail.

Carnegie Hall's imminent festival, Vienna, City of Dreams, promises to be one of the most lavish in its rich history: a three- week citywide celebration with more than 50 events, anchored by five programs from the Vienna Philharmonic and two concert operas from that orchestra's parent company, the Vienna State Opera, at Carnegie. A broad representation of Viennese music from the 18th to the 21st centuries will range from Strauss family waltzes and other froth to those cathartically harrowing operas Richard Strauss's "Salome" and Alban Berg's "Wozzeck."

The festival officially begins on Friday with the 59th Viennese Opera Ball in New York, at the Waldorf-Astoria. But not everything will be festive and celebratory. Vienna has, after all, also been a city of nightmares at times, and the bleaker aspects of its history will be examined in some detail during the festival.

On Feb. 24 -- even before the first concert, with Franz Welser- Most conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in an edifying program of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Schoenberg's "Friede auf Erden" ("Peace on Earth") on Feb. 25 -- the Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership will begin a symposium on Vienna's history and legacy of the past 150 years at the Paley Center for Media. In the first panel, "Vienna, 1860 to 1914: Creativity, Culture, Science and Politics," speakers including Mr. Welser-Most will discuss topics including "the roots of societal breakdown."

If that doesn't start the fur flying, the second panel, on Feb. 27, should: "How Did the Cultured, Creative Society of Vienna Lose Its Moral Compass?" Presenting the Vienna Philharmonic as the prime specimen, and with Clemens Hellsberg, a violinist and president of the self-governing orchestra, as one of the speakers, the panel will inevitably reach to a deeper, more universal issue: the moral responsibility of artists and artistic institutions both to their time and to history.

The Philharmonic's behavior and that of individual members during the Nazi era was, by any accounting, execrable. But the orchestra has taken significant steps in the last quarter-century, and especially since Mr. Hellsberg took over in 1997, to own up to that past and acknowledge its complicity with the Nazis, to honor those hurt or killed through the actions or inactions of an earlier generation of players and to devote itself to social good and the cause of international peace.

Has it done enough?

No, not even close, say some, led by the Greens, the left- liberal political party in Austria, which keeps close and skeptical watch on the Philharmonic's occasionally faltering steps to escape the shadow of its past. And for some -- those whose families were involved in the purging of Jews from the orchestra in 1938, perhaps - - it never could do enough.

Others, like Daniel Barenboim, who conducted the orchestra's New Year's concerts, assert that the orchestra is on the right track.

"Admitting responsibility is always a good thing," Mr. Barenboim said in an interview, "and the Philharmonic has done that. It's not just the Vienna Philharmonic and Austria that have horrors in their past. One has to decide how responsible one holds people whose ancestors did this, that or the other."

Joel Bell, the founding chairman of the Chumir Foundation and the organizer of the Carnegie symposium, agrees and supports Mr. Hellsberg's initiatives.

"Led by Clemens, the Philharmonic has taken all the very good steps," Mr. Bell said. He enumerated three: The orchestra has laid out the facts, "a necessary first step," on its website; it has mounted commemorations, "tugging at the heartstrings to help people remember and to teach," as with a 2000 performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at a former concentration camp in Mauthausen, Austria; and it has shown a willingness to participate in dialogue, as in the symposium. …

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