American Jewish conductor expresses love for Catholic popes in public TV concert special

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“The Pope’s Maestro” is Jewish — who knew?
“A Celebration of Peace Through Music — a new American Public Television concert special, produced by the Pax Per Musicam Foundation, in association with WETA in Washington D.C. — airs on Bethlehem’s WLVT at 3 p.m. March 29. According to the Audience Services Department of WHYY Philadelphia, their Y2 channel has tentatively scheduled it to air in April (check www.whyy.org starting around the end of March).
Over the course of two hours, Sir Gilbert Levine, the American conductor who was a friend of Pope John Paul II’s for 17 years, conducts a concert filmed last May at Washington’s DAR Constitution Hall, interspersed with introductory interludes in Washington; Venice, Italy; Kraków, Poland; Jerusalem; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Rome. Featuring a massive musical ensemble comprised of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, the Krakow Philharmonic Choir and the Choral Arts Society of Washington, the concert was performed in honor of the Catholic Church’s canonizations of John Paul II and Pope John XXIII “in the spirit of Pope Francis,” and demonstrates music’s power to transcend national, racial, denominational, political and historic differences.
With the Washington and Jefferson monuments and the White House all in the background, Levine says during the special that despite their religious differences, John Paul II “taught me that music could be a great language — a way to bring people together of all faiths, all backgrounds, from all over the world.”

Sir Gilbert Levine.  Photo courtesy of Sir Gilbert Levine

Sir Gilbert Levine.
Photo courtesy of Sir Gilbert Levine

Levine — who was honored by Pope Benedict with a Silver Star of St. Gregory, the highest pontifical honor given to a Jew in Vatican history — presents his selection process for each concert piece in interesting and informative fashion. Aaron Copland’s stirring “Fanfare for the Common Man” he dedicates to “the rock star pope” from Buenos Aires, Pope Francis. The “Sanctus” from Giuseppe Verdi’s “Requiem” was picked with St. John XXIII in mind because of his progressive efforts to foster relationships between the Catholic Church and people of other faiths in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. He frames the plainchant-like hymn “Bogurodzica” as a singularly sacred piece of music among the Polish people. Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” and Brahms’ “Symphony No. 1” are also performed. Polish composer Henryk Gorecki is seen in the audience at Constitution Hall to witness the performance of his a cappella choral work “Totus Tuus.”
Levine, whose theatrical conducting style is entertaining to watch, also takes us inside a historic synagogue in Venice, St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow — which he says was a significant place in St. John Paul II’s ministry, and more.

Sir Gilbert Levine conducts a concert at DAR Constitution Hall.  Photo courtesy of Georgetown University

Sir Gilbert Levine conducts a concert at DAR Constitution Hall.
Photo courtesy of Georgetown University

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