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The Critics

since, Jabotinsky and his heirs have been a convenient foil for those, of whom Beinart is only the latest, who believe that there was a decent Zionism and a decent Israel in the states early decades when it was ruled by Labour. A case can at least be made that all this is the wrong way round, and that Israel has been criticised too severely in recent decades, having been criticised not severely enough in its early years. After the 1967 war, Israel clung on to and began to colonise the West Bank but there was no ethnic cleansing to compare with the expulsion of more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs in 1948 in which good as well as bad Zionists participated. Both Beinart and Finkelstein mention Deir Yassin, the village near Jerusalem where the Irgun, under Menachem Begin, Jabotinskys heir and a future prime minister, massacred more than a hundred villagers in 1948. Deir Yassin became a byword but Lydda should be also. At that same time, almost all the towns Palestinians, nearly 50,000 in the vicinity altogether, were expelled by troops commanded by Rabin, acting on the orders of BenGurion. In 1979, Rabins account in his memoirs of this essential expulsion and how Ben-Gurion had told him, Drive them out!, was censored by the Israeli cabinet (illustrating what Levin meant by both crime and lies). All that casts an ironical light on the idea of good and bad Zionism, the purity of Labour, and Beinarts touching conviction that early American Zionists genuinely believed that democracy lay at the heart of the Zionist idea. The late Conor Cruise OBrien became a committed Zionist and supporter of Israel, but he remained an honest historian. Writing in 1985 (and in the New Republic), he said that the main difference between Ben-Gurion and Jabotinsky, in relation to the Palestinian Arabs, seems to have been that Jabotinsky seems to have been a lot more candid on the subject than Ben-Gurion (or Weizmann) judged it expedient to be. Events in 1948, and since, have confirmed that. Liberal Zionism is not a fantasy within Israels 1967 lines, Beinart says. But it would be if the balance of population had not been so drastically changed in the first place, or if those driven out had been allowed back since. Underneath the anguish of well-meaning Jewish liberals such as Beinart may lie a haunting fear: what if Jabotinsky was right? Beinart quotes a diary entry of Herzls: We dont want a Boer state, but a Venice. But maybe a Boer state, an armed garrison surrounded by a hostile indigenous populace, was always the fate of the Zionist project, just as Jabo said. Much is said today by high-minded Jewish Americans about the necessity of preserving an Israel both Jewish and democratic. But mightnt that have been a beguiling, impossible dream all along? l Geoffrey Wheatcrofts books include The Controversy of Zion, which won an American National Jewish Book Award
42 | NEW STATESMAN | 23 JULY 2012

Big show of hands


Suzy Klein
Music as Alchemy: Journeys With Great Conductors and Their Orchestras Tom Service Faber & Faber, 288pp, 18.99 At every orchestral concert there is a lone figure standing on a podium. He communicates only through gestures and facial expressions, turning a series of notes on a page into an immersive sonic experience. For a performance truly to come alive, it needs someone who is both separate from yet also part of it, able to weave a multitude of musical voices together into a coherent whole. That someone is the conductor. For as long as people have made music together, there have been conductors and the practice of conducting has changed little over time. For instance, documents from Sumer dating from 3000 BC list 64 female slaves at a temple, with one girl in charge of supervising the choir and another who rehearses the singers. In the Middle Ages, cheironomy was the name given to the art of directing music through hand movements, indicating the shape and flow of a melodic line to singers. Gradually, conductors began using tools to communicate rolled-up scrolls of paper, sticks and long staffs. The 17th-century French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully was perhaps the most celebrated practitioner of beating time on the floor, which he did with such zeal that on one occasion he punctured his foot with his conducting staff; he subsequently caught gangrene and died. As composers emerged from the shadows of their patrons in the early 19th century, conducting became a celebrity activity. Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Liszt were not only famed performer-composers, directing orchestras from behind a piano; now they also stood in front of their players as the focal point of musical activity. Then, with the birth of the recording industry came a new breed: super conductors such as Otto Klemperer, Arturo Toscanini and Wilhelm Furtwngler, who ruled with total authority. The conductor was king. Tom Service aims to show us how conductors and their orchestras weave their brand of musical magic. He is a classical music journalist and broadcaster and Music as Alchemy, his first book, is brimming with enthusiasm. Services passion is evident from the opening page, as he feverishly recounts the first orchestral concert he attended, aged seven. Taking that initial love affair as his starting point, he explores six of todays great conductor-orchestra pairings, from the painstaking, finely honed genius of Simon

Rattle and his Berliner Philharmoniker to the madcap, seat-of-the-pants electricity of the performances of Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra. Orchestras, argues Service, are not only musical machines for reproducing the canon of western art music for the audiences gratification. They are also barometers of social and political change. A ruthless maestro such as Herbert von Karajan was a product of the Nazi era, shouting at his musicians from the podium at the same time as Hitler was screaming hatred to the wider world. Now that we like our politicians and our societies a little less totalitarian, conductors and orchestras have had to change, too. The players of Berlin, for instance, have had to embrace 21st-century repertoire, unlocked from the stranglehold of their Austro-German past by Rattle. The musicians of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam declare that they will not put up with back-breaking schedules or bolshy egomaniacs on the podium. In a post-deferential era, conductors must engage with their players and with society, through education and community projects. Today, a maestro must earn respect, not demand it. The one quality all six of Services subjects share is a tendency towards obsession and workaholism. Gergiev is a human whirlwind, rehearsing in one country in the morning and conducting in another the same evening. He requires private jets as well as commercial flights to fulfil his schedule. Mariss Jansons, we discover, once had a heart attack on the podium in Oslo but kept conducting Puccinis La Bohme even after hed collapsed. These insights, though, are not from the mouths of the conductors themselves. Despite Services best efforts to coax his maestros into demystifying their art, none of them elucidates the fundamental question of what makes an exceptional, alchemical conductor. If a composer could say what he had to say in words, he would not bother trying to say it in music, said the composer-conductor Gustav Mahler. But this is an isolated disappointment in an otherwise excellent book. Service blends in-depth musical understanding and analysis with an armchair conductors enthusiasm and VIP access to rehearsals. The result is fascinating part concert review, part interview series, part philosophical quest, as Service explores why orchestral music has such power and how a group of musicians can harness it. At the centre of it all is the conductor: the only silent participant in the noisy adventure of live orchestral performance. He has perfected a kind of timeless choreography that plays out night after night. This book shows us how, through the efforts of this shamanic figure, live music can be simply good enough or, sometimes, utterly electrifiying. l Suzy Klein is a presenter for BBC Radio 3

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