Two questions run like a leitmotif through an exhibition by the Jewish Museum Vienna celebrating the 100th birthday of Leonard Bernstein: Why did the Viennese need Bernstein? And why did Bernstein need Vienna? But these questions in turn raise new ones: Why, as early as 1946, did the Viennese Philharmonic Orchestra with its Nazi past invite the young Jewish American conductor Bernstein, who had made his debut just three years earlier with the New York Philharmonic? Why did Bernstein prefer at the time to conduct in Palestine? Why did he come to Vienna to conduct the Vienna State Opera after all in 1966? Why was he received so enthusiastically by the Viennese? And did he come more and more frequently to Vienna so as to demonstrate to New Yorkers that he wasn’t dependent on them?
In 1966, a good twenty years after the Holocaust and during his first production at the Vienna State Opera, Bernstein wrote to his parents: “I am enjoying Vienna enormously—as much as a Jew can ... What they call ‘the Bernstein wave’ that has swept Vienna has produced some strange results; all of a sudden it’s fashionable to be Jewish ...”
Bernstein went on the offensive during his Vienna years, buying a “Trachtenjanker,” the traditional jacket (“as therapy against German nationalism”), brought Gustav Mahler back to Vienna, and even mediated in Austrian internal politics.For Vienna, the New Yorker Leonard Bernstein represented progress, not least because he managed, as Michael Steinberg put it “with cosmopolitanism and sensitivity, humor and passion,” to give back to the Viennese “the aura of a vanished past.”
Curators: Werner Hanak, Adina Seeger
Image (c) First/Look/picturedesk.com