Berlin Philharmonic conductor stops talking to media following commentaries seen as anti-Semitic


BERLIN (JTA) — The newly announced future conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic reportedly will not give interviews anymore after two major German media outlets published comments about him using perceived anti-Semitic stereotypes.

Kirill Petrenko, 43, a Russian-born Jew, was appointed last week to replace Sir Simon Rattle in September 2018. Petrenko is currently the director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich.

Petrenko stopped talking to the media following commentaries by Northern German Radio, or NDR, and Welt Online, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported. The offending material has been removed.

NDR’s Sabine Lange, writing about Petrenko and a German-born contender for the position, described the latter — Christian Thielemann — as a world-renowned expert in the German sound and Petrenko as a mythical, dwarflike figure from Wagner’s operas, “the tiny gnome, the Jewish caricature.”

The Welt Online commentator said that while Petrenko and Thielemann were otherwise comparable, it was “a relief to many” that Petrenko enjoys good interpersonal relations, “as at least one of the female opera singers at this year’s Bayreuth [Wagner] Festival can attest.”

In response, readers noted the anti-Semitic stereotypes of overly competitive and oversexed Jews, and the articles were edited or removed, the Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten, or German Economic News online, reported.

Both reports were “bursting with anti-Semitic hatred,” one reader wrote to NDR, adding, “This is now apparently OK in Germany again.”

An NDR editor apologized for any impressions of anti-Semitic stereotypes, and insisted that Lange wanted to pick up on Wagnerian operatic themes, given that Petrenko and Thielemann would be meeting during the Bayreuth Wagner festival.

The statement “is an insult to our intelligence,” one reader said. “It’s just unbelievable that you could not have been aware [of the anti-Semitic stereotypes].”

NDR later retracted the statement and replaced it with another, from its director of cultural programming, Barbara Mirow, saying that the editorial staff had failed in its review of the submitted commentary, should never have published it and would be more careful in the future.

In its commentary, Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten said the incident showed that “anti-Semitic stereotypes cannot be eradicated by decades of reflection on the crimes of National Socialism.”

The paper added that the NDR comments “don’t come from a rabid anti-Semite, trained by preachers of hate from the Arab world. The commentary comes from the supposedly enlightened, bourgeois milieu of northern Germany.”

Petrenko will be the orchestra’s first Jewish conductor, though there are several Jewish conductors of other orchestras in the German capital, including Daniel Barenboim, originally of Argentina, who conducts the Berlin State Opera.

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