I have a deep, abiding love for the conductors Leonard Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan. They, however, did not seem to share that love for each other – or so it seemed. The two had little to do with each other. They seemed polar opposites of the conducting spectrum, one stoic and dignified, the other emotive and unrestrained. Karajan was a master of subtlety while Bernstein painted in broad, colorful strokes. Their philosophies could not have been more disparate, so it only stands to reason that more than a few music critics paint them as rivals.
That relationship, however, may not have originally been the case. Soprano Brigit Nilsson, in her memoirs, wrote about what she believed was the root of the divide between Bernstein and Karajan:
To avoid speaking about the miserable Carmen, Bernstein asked Karajan how he spent his free time in Milan. Well, he said, he went skiing in the Alps and could recommend it highly. Bernstein showed no interest and said he could not go skiing as he had no equipment with him.
At three in the morning there was a knock on Bernstein’s door at the Hotel Duomo where both he and Karajan were domiciled. There stood Karajan with his arms full of ski gear, which he offered to lend Bernstein. Lenny was touched at the friendly offer and put aside his ingrained Jewish hatred for the Nazis. The two sat together and talked all night as though old friends.
Bernstein asked why Karajan had not conducted in the United States and Karajan answered quite frankly that because of his political past he was not sought after in the States. Bernstein said that Karajan had many admirers in the Stats and that as the war has ended so long ago it was possible it was all forgotten. They agreed that Bernstein would look into any possibilities and try to make the right contacts for Karajan.
There came out of this a concert in Carnegie Hall in New York City. The concert was sold out, but ended with frenzied booing against Karajan.
Ms. Nilsson believed that Karajan blamed Bernstein for this horrible experience, an experience he would have never had if Bernstein had not talked him into coming to the States to begin with.
We often say that music is a universal language, but, between these two passionate musicians, that language started out as skiing. It wasn’t even the act or subject of skiing. It was a touch of kindness from one to another tangentially triggered by the topic of skiing. Now pay attention to an important detail in the story. Herbert von Karajan had been a registered Nazi in the 30s. Leonard Bernstein was Jewish. Here we have a Jew and a former Nazi talking all night “as though old friends.”
The unity originally forged between these two is the same as the unity the gospel should forge between us and our fellow people. No difference is so big that Christ’s love cannot span it. In Galatians 3:26-29 and Colossians 3:9-11, Paul makes it clear that Christ’s love erases boundaries created by race, by politics, by gender, and by economic status. The entire premise of the book of Philemon seems unrealistic when not framed in the lens of Christian love.
When we truly live in a Christ-like manner, secular divisions will mean nothing:
- I may be white, and you may be brown, but we can be one in Christ.
- I may like my politicians on the left while you like yours on the right, but we can be one in Christ.
- I may be better off or worse of than you, but we can be one in Christ.
- I may be an environmentalist, and you may see that as foolishness, but we can be one in Christ.
- I may lean socialist while you lean capitalist, but we can be one in Christ.
- I may speak English while you speak Spanish, but we can be one in Christ.
- I may be clean-cut where you have piercings and tattoos, but we can be one in Christ.
- I may celebrate Christmas while you celebrate Winter Solstice, but we can be one in Christ.
- I may hold my peace while you recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but we can be one in Christ.
Now here’s the tough part. This loving attitude is not limited exclusively to fellow Christians. (Honestly, I’ve heard the excuse, “I can treat [insert name] however I want because he/she isn’t a Christian.”) Galatians 5:9-10 explicitly states that we should never weary in our doing good and that our goodness and love should be available to all. When I look at you, I should not see “a secular humanist,” “a terrorist,” “a lowlife,” “a scumbag,” “an illiterate,” “a liberal hypocrite,” “a commie,” “an illegal,” “a lazy bum,” or any of those other labels we so flippantly throw around. All I should see is another soul my Savior loved enough to die for.
Think about it, Bernstein and Karajan could surmount one of the most massive cultural divides in recent history – all because one extended a simple gesture of kindness to the other. Can we do any less?
Note: Yes, dear music lovers, it is possible to appreciate them both. They are not musically mutually exclusive.