John Paul II taught power of spirit, orchestra conductor says

Sir Gilbert Levine, whose conducting career has spanned the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic and the Dresden Staatskapelle, was a Jew from Brooklyn who had only recently met a Catholic priest when he first met the late Pope John Paul II.

Their improbable friendship, told in Levine’s recent book, The Pope’s Maestro, began in 1987 when Levine was invited to be guest conductor and artistic director of the Krakow Philharmonic in John Paul’s native Poland.

While compelling, the invitation was also unsettling since Levine’s grandparents had fled Poland to escape the Nazis and members of his wife’s family had died in Auschwitz. Living in Krakow would mean living behind the Iron Curtain, but Levine accepted anyway.

Soon after Levine arrived in Krakow, the Vatican summoned him to Rome for an audience with the pope. That invite led to others, and Levine was invited to conduct a concert in 1988 to mark the 10th anniversary of John Paul’s election.