Truth in a time of war.

Author:Bernstein, Leonard

By way of instant apology for the rambling remarks that follow, let me certify that I have just returned from three weeks of conducting abroad, involving eight cities in seven countries, with two different orchestras, and juggling five languages. I have come here tonight to make a report on this journey--not because anyone asked me to--(can you imagine anything more boring than a recital of maestronic statistics?)--but rather because I learned something on this tour that I want to share with you.

That would still not be sufficient reason to stand here talking about myself. The point is that what I learned I want to share with you, men and women of Harvard, which is where I learned to love learning. That's why I've come back here tonight.

Okay, on to some statistics. The first two weeks of the three were devoted to a tour with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra--a journey that began in New York City on September 13th (you see, only moments ago!) and proceeded the following day to London, then to Munich, then Pompeii (!), Paris, Zurich, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem. This whole tour was in celebration of the 50th birthday of the Israel Philharmonic--which is, in a way, even more miraculous than this three hundred and fiftieth birthday, given the perilous circumstances of the orchestra's origin in 1936. (It was then called, humbly enough, the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, which is how I first came to know it, many years ago.) For this present jubilant occasion I wrote a special birthday piece for the orchestra I had known and loved so well, a piece called Jubilee Games, designed to celebrate with numerous and vociferous trumpet calls their joyous Jubilee year. Those of you who know your Leviticus will immediately understand what I'm talking about, and even those of you who don't, but who do know your Constitution, or even the inscription on our Liberty Bell, will understand equally well the excitement and liberation of "Jubilee."

And don't think that Harvard wasn't constantly chiming away in my head in consonance with this Jubilee all during the tour. You see, exactly 50 years ago, as the gods would have it, 50 beautiful autumns ago, the Israel Orchestra was born, and I entered Harvard and took up residence at Wigglesworth Hall [actually, Bernstein enrolled at Harvard in 1935, not 1936]. It was tercentenary time then; and what's more I had just come freshly from another tercentenary, namely that of the Boston Latin School, from which I had just graduated in 1935. So bells were ringing all around me, for two solid years. And they've been chiming ever since, and indeed did so, loudly, on the Jubilee festival tour last month, from St. Paul's in London to Notre Dame in Jerusalem.

It was all bells and beauty, Hatikvah in our hearts, enraptured audiences--except for one thing: security. We were, after all, the Israel Philharmonic, streaming from airport to airport, concert hall to hotel, public place to public place; we were the messengers of music (that is, beauty, therefore truth) and everywhere around us was something called terrorism. That was also a truth--not perhaps so absolute as Plato's Aesthetic Truth, but a formidable reality nonetheless. Paris had just undergone a relentless stoma of terrorist abuse, and we were en route la-bas. I need not tell you about airports--Heathrow, Leonardo da Vinci, Athens, Vienna--everybody's favorite headlines. We were therefore heavily guarded; wherever we went there were Carabinieri, Sicherheitspolizei, La Surete Nationale, Her Majesty's Secret Service, the charming Swiss Army. I could go nowhere without a personal bodyguard, not even for a walk down Piccadilly or the Champs Elysees. I visited the breathtaking ruins of Pompeii, after 15 or 20 years; what a joy, but again attended by a helicopter overhead, soldiers with ferocious dogs on chains, and chummy plainclothesmen in Italian silk shirts...

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