US power broker secures Europe foothold

US power broker secures Europe foothold


norman lebrecht

July 13, 2016

It has been quietly announced that Leon Botstein is to be artistic director of the Grafenegg Festival in Austria.

Grafenegg is under-exposed. Botstein, 69, is the opposite.

President of Bard College since 1975, he has been music director of the American Symphony and the Jerusalem Symphony, among other posts.

He is also editor of Musical Quarterly.

Leon Botstein

UPDATE: He has been named artistic director of the Grafenegg Campus and Academy, NOT the Grafenegg Festival.


  • Halldor says:

    But hang on…Botstein is a US citizen. Austria is in the EU! Surely this is unprecedented? Everyone knows that it’s impossible – impossible! – for artists from non-EU countries to work within the blessed Union! Just as European artists are absolutely banned from working in non-EU member states.

    Extraordinary. Next thing we know, the sky won’t be falling in, either…

  • Marshall says:

    Sloppy writing or research-Bard College was founded in 1860.

    Since he became a musician-I always wondered why he remained a college president.

  • boringfileclerk says:

    This is welcome news, I wish Leon Botstein all the best. He’s a much underrated conductor that has considerable better musical taste and skills compared to his peers. His scholarly approach to scores brings out the very best in the performers. If I had my way, he’d be conducting the New York Philharmonic or Berlin. He’s that good. He deserves much better recognition for his work.

    • Now here man says:

      I’ve heard mixed opinions about his conducting, but you’re absolutely right that he “has considerable better musical taste … than his peers.” His programming is exemplary, never dumbed down for the types who come to symphony concerts to see and be seen and to have pleasant sounds wash over them. He also brings a historical awareness to his activities as a conductor that is otherwise almost entirely lacking on the American scene. Regrettably, there are few conductors about which one can say the same thing.

    • John Borstlap says:

      According to a couple of my flies on the wall, as a conductor he is a bit on the dry side, an intellectual. The best musicians are not intellectuals, in general.

      A very erudite academic, nonetheless. But quite irritated about Jewish intellectuals and artists who ‘assimilate’ instead of sporting their ethnicity as a loud banner of cultural identity. He once wrote a devastating essay about Stefan Zweig, a passionate character murder because Zweig had ‘chosen’ to be European.

      • James says:

        No, with respect, this isn’t true at all. I once heard him give a speech about Strauss (who, OK, wasn’t Jewish, but it was a related subject) where he was actually very understanding of Strauss’s predicament and wondered aloud whether ‘any of us can be absolutely certain we would have had the courage to do anything different’ (or words to that effect). And he’s a great Mahler fan, who of course hardly declined to moderate his Judaism…

        • John Borstlap says:

          There is going-on a strong revival of Zweig over the last years, also in the Anglosaxon world, including his novels and his autobiography ‘The world of yesterday’ which has meaningful things to say that are relevant today. But Botstein wrote in 1982: ‘The writings of this once internationally popular essayist, novelist, dramatist, biographer, savant and emonent man of letters have fallen legitimately into obscurity, especially in the non-German speaking world, as his two biographers of a decade ago already realized.’


          ‘Like the ideals of Esperanto and World Government, the “humanism” of Stefan Zweig and those with whom he would have wished posterity to associate him, appears to us moribund, anachronistic, naive and superficial. It has been left abandoned by the elite world of artists and intellects and by public opinion alike’.

          Botstein treated Zweig as a social anthropologist while Zweig was foremost a novelist, an artist, not an academic, and waves with the holocaust flag to condemn Zweig’s attempt to understand ethnic background as irrelevant to artistic and intellectual production and to celebrate the best of European culture. In fact, Botstein reveals a kind of racism in his condemnations, quite embarrassing. Interesting how opinions about writers, artists, intellectuals can change over time, according to circumstances. The postwar cynicism completely misunderstood the role of intellectual and artistic aspiration: understandable given the murder of the Jews, but crazy to use this as an instrument to try to kill-off a remarkable author’s reputation who was, in the first place, one of the most tragic victims of historical developments. It reads as an antisemitic tract.

          To be found in: ‘Stefan Zweig and the Illusion of the Jewish European’, Jewish Social Studies, Vol. 44, nr 1, 1982.

    • NYMike says:

      While finding little-known scores to conduct thereby doing invaluable service, Botstein conducts as an academic – dry and boring.

      • John Borstlap says:

        The performance of classical music higly depends upon intuition, instinct, emotional intelligence, emotional imagination, a feeling for communication, and an intuition of spirituality. The intellect can merely be an instrument to unlock these things… where it dominates. music dies.

      • boringfileclerk says:

        I find his conducting to be inspirational. He isn’t flamboyant because he knows it’s not about him. He wants to convey the core of the music to his audience and does so in a balanced way. You can have a performance that is at once intellectually secure, and emotionally satisfying. For my money, Botstein brings both to the table. Some may find this approach dry, but I find it quite the opposite. And he carries on the tradition in music of being a complete musician as well as an academic. He’s no drama queen, but he wants his audience to be both engaged and informed.

  • PaulR says:

    Correction please – the Grafenegg Festival has appointed Leon Botstein as artistic director of the Grafenegg Campus and Academy, NOT the Grafenegg Festival.


    According to the official announcement, this appointment is meant to further plans to transform Grafenegg into a leading international platform for musical talent. Dr. Botstein will be responsible for the artistic planning and all activities of the program, which will involve all Grafenegg’s venues, including the 1700-seat Wolkenturm open-air stage, the 1300-seat Auditorium, the Riding school concert hall, and the ‎Castle courtyard. With this appointment, Grafenegg expands its far-sighted new mission “to promote excellence and innovation in the arts through increased development of its programs and an expanded roster of activities.”