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The Pope's Maestro

ISBN: 978-0-470-49065-5
440 pages
October 2010, Jossey-Bass
The Pope


The story of the friendship between a Jewish-American conductor and Pope John Paul II

This book offers the inspirational story of an unlikely friendship and the two men who collaborated in an extraordinary way to begin to help heal centuries-old wounds. For two decades Sir Gilbert Levine and Pope John Paul II collaborated on symbolic acts of reconciliation: a series of internationally broadcast concerts designed to bring together people from all religious backgrounds under the auspices of the Vatican. These concerts broke new ground and demonstrated the Vatican's desire for rapprochement and even atonement in its relationships with Jews around the world. And it resulted in Sir Gilbert recovering his own Jewish faith in a deeper and more meaningful way.

  • Details the extraordinary collaboration between a world-renowned musical maestro and an innovative Pope
  • Shows how music can act as a bridge between people of different faiths
  • A moving, inspirational, and personal story that appeals to music lovers and to people of all faith traditions

This is a compelling tale of faith, friendship, and the healing power of music to bring people together.

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Table of Contents

Foreword (John Tagliabue).


Part One Ave Maria.

Chapters 1-6.

Part Two Kaddish.

Chapters 7-23.

Part Three Creation.

Chapters 24-30.

Part Four Resurrection.

Chapters 31-36.


About the DVD.


The Author.

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Author Information

Sir Gilbert Levine is a distinguished American conductor who has led major orchestras in the United States and abroad, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, Staatskapelle Dresden, San Francisco Symphony, London Philharmonic, Pittsburgh Symphony, Royal Philharmonic, Montreal Symphony, Philharmonia Orchestra, Kraków Philharmonic, and L’Orchestre de la Bastille (Paris). Educated at Juilliard, Princeton, and Yale, Maestro Levine has conducted numerous televised concerts on PBS and for the European Broadcasting Union, and performed for His Holiness Pope John Paul II on many occasions. He has been honored with the highest Pontifical Knighthood accorded a non-ecclesiastical musician since Mozart.
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Not all books are worth writing; this one assuredly is, because it tells how peace can happen, one heart at a time. It helps when the hearts beat in people of influence and talent. The hearts in question are, first, that of author Levine, a conductor, Brooklyn-born Jew, and son-in-law of a Holocaust survivor. The other heart? Polish-born Pope John Paul II, who may be headed to sainthood. Levine and the late pope became acquainted when the musician became the conductor of the Krakow Philharmonic in the heady days of the late 1980s, as the Iron Curtain slowly crumbled in Eastern Europe. Levine and the pope became spiritual friends, collaborating on papal-sponsored concerts of reconciliation intended to ease estrangement and pained history between Catholic Christians and Jews, and, post-September 11, among the three Abrahamic religions. This remarkable and little-known story deserves attention. (Oct.) (Publishers Weekly, August 16, 2010)

"Talk about a baptism in fire. Levine is witty as he tells of his observations of Communist Poland, the intricacies of the Catholic Church, and his first glimpses of the Vatican… He strikes a dreamlike tone as he tells of how he and Pope John Paul II became friends." (The Buffalo News.com, March 20, 2011, by Mary Kunz Goldman)

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Press Release

April 30, 2011
The Pope's Maestro

The Pope’s Maestro

New Memoir Tells of Remarkable Friendship between John Paul II and American Conductor Gilbert Levine and Their Historic Concerts to Heal Relations Among Christians, Jews and Muslims 

Pope John Paul II Will Be Beatified on May 1, 2011

In The Pope’s Maestro world-renowned conductor Sir Gilbert Levine tells how a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn, who had never met a Catholic priest in his life, ended up as Maestro to one of the most beloved popes in recent history.

During his unlikely 17-year friendship with the late John Paul II, who is expected to be beatified in the near future, the two men bonded over their shared love of music and their belief in its transcendent power to heal the human spirit.

Handpicked by John Paul II, Levine worked closely with him on an initiative to use music to heal centuries-old wounds among the Abrahamic faiths. The groundbreaking concerts, broadcast internationally, used the common language of music to nurture peace and understanding among the people of the world. They included the historic Papal Concert to Commemorate the Shoah in 1994, and the 2004 Papal Concert of Reconciliation performed at the Vatican, where the Pope was flanked by the Chief Rabbi of Rome and the Imam of the Mosque of Rome.

Levine’s friendship with the pope “transformed my art and my faith in inestimable ways,” he says. “It taught me many things: the power of music and spirit to foster hope, transformation, healing and love. The mysteries of faith, not one faith but three—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The potential for reconciliation and redemption even in the face of the sadness and violence of both the past and the present.”

This improbable journey began in 1987 when Levine was invited by the famed Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki to become the artistic director and conductor of the Krakow Philharmonic. For Levine, whose grandparents had emigrated from Poland, and whose mother-in-law’s entire family was killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, near Krakow, this invitation was not one he jumped at immediately. Though it would mean living behind the Iron Curtain, he accepted, recalling what had drawn him to Krakow in the first place as a guest conductor: the music-making and his regard for the musicians.

Krakow was the archdiocese of Karol Wojtyla before he became Pope John Paul II. Summoned to the Vatican for an audience with the Pope, Levine—who had only recently met a Catholic priest for the first time—was shocked to find himself in a one-on-one conversation with John Paul that led to an invitation to conduct a Papal Concert to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the pontificate, the beginning of almost two decades of musical collaboration/peace mission.

The memoir takes on a gripping cloak-and-dagger edge as Levine describes the oppressive surveillance he endured while living in Poland, where he served with the Krakow Philharmonic until 1993. He was spied upon and trailed by the secret police, and the harassment only increased

as his relationship with the Pope grew. Apparatchiks even attempted to sabotage a concert in Paris to celebrate the Polish spirit and Solidarity, staging a bus accident that delayed the Krakow orchestra’s principal players.

“I had endured long absences from my family, lived in a country haunted by the ghosts of the Shoah and felt the repression of the Communist secret police for a reason shared by His Holiness,” Levine says. “To bring peace through music to all for whom this noble vision would resonate, to accomplish the very thing that I had so boldly told the Pope at my first audience.”

In gratitude for his service, John Paul II invested Levine as a Knight Commander of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of Saint Gregory the Great, the first pontifical knighthood awarded to an American Jew, and the first accorded to a non-ecclesiastical musician since Mozart.

Levine’s friendship with the leader of the world’s one billion Catholics deepened his own Jewish faith. During his years with the pope, Levine became more conscious of the religious nature of his Jewish heritage, and currently worships with his family at an Orthodox synagogue in Manhattan.

His relationship with the pope changed him musically as well: “My music-making now is different than it was. I listen for the stillness as well as the roar. I have learned to hear the meaning that lies cached beneath the surface of the notes. I know now that music is spirit made sound, that it has the power to make us whole. And yes, to bring us peace.”

The book includes photos of John Paul II and Sir Gilbert and the Papal concerts, plus a bonus DVD of the concert they presented in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Krakow, Poland.

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