April 28, 2013

When Radio Free Europe Supported the Boston Symphony Orchestra

Symphony Hall, Boston with BSO

On April 28, 1952, the “Masterpieces of the Twentieth Century” festival opened in Paris, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra playing Igor Stravinsky’s ballet suite The Rite of Spring.

The little known role of Radio Free Europe in support of the Boston Symphony Orchestra's first performance outside the United States is explained below.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), one of America’s prestigious orchestras, was scheduled to tour Europe April-May 1952, including performing at the Paris cultural festival “Masterpieces of the Twentieth Century.” 
Charles Munch

The Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor was Charles Munch born in France (September 26, 1891 – November 6, 1968)Concerts were scheduled for Paris, The Hague, Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt, Berlin, Strasbourg, Metz, Lyon, Bordeaux, and London.  

On October 2, 1951, the board of directors of the National Committee for Free Europe (NCFE) met in New York City. One of the items discussed was funding for the Boston Symphony Orchestra upcoming European tour.

NCFE president C.D. Jackson told the NCFE directors were told that the costs of the BSO European tour were expensive and full financial support was not readily forthcoming for the planned budget of $200,000. The NCFE directors were told that the Congress for Cultural Freedom (a CIA covert project) pledged $30,000 of support, $40,000 was expected from the European Tour, and $100,000 would come from the United States tour before traveling to Europe. Thus, $30,000 was lacking.

C. D. Jackson, Fortune magazine publisher was also on the board of directors of the BSO. He told the other NCFE directors that he “was very enthusiastic” about the participation of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the Paris festival and “felt that the NCFE through Radio Free Europe could make a major contribution to its success,” if “NCFE would give the necessary pledge of approximately $30,000, for which in turn, Radio Free Europe would receive the rights for broadcasting the entire festival program and the recording rights of the orchestra’s European concert tour.”

The NCFE board of directors unanimously endorsed the support of the BSO project but would not approve the financial support without more information about the exact amount required, and if NCFE had the funds to do so.

At a special meeting held on January 16, 1952, the NCFE board of directors passed a resolution “that the sum of $30,000 is appropriated as a donation to the American Committee of Cultural Freedom, Inc, in return for which NCFE is secured the rights to broadcast and record the ‘Masterpieces of the Twentieth Century Exposition’ program in Europe, including all the performances of the BSO during its tour of the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, Inc.

Pierre Monteux
The Boston Symphony Orchestra left its mark in Paris when it performed in May 1952, under Charles Munch and associate conductor Pierre Monteux, also born in France (April 4, 1875 – July 1, 1964Life magazine, for example, wrote in its May 19, 1952, issue,

Since 1493 Europeans have had few kind words for American ventures into the arts, and since 1945 few kind words on any score. Last week, however, they had a great many. The Boston Symphony Orchestra, in Paris for an arts festival, gave two performances, which left listeners dazed with awe. Critics unanimously used the word “extraordinary,” and phrases like, “Is there another orchestra which could interpret modern music with such brilliance?” “Performance unparalleled in finesse and dynamism.”

Time magazine wrote on May 19, 1952,

In their first appearance at Paris' international Festival of the Arts ... they left the audience (including President Auriol) shouting itself hoarse. In courtly appreciation, the orchestra and Conductor Munch broke a long-standing symphonic rule and played an encore. Two nights later came the success of Monteux, Stravinsky and The Rite of Spring.

Paris' critics came out gasping superlatives. Said Le Figaro: "An extraordinary ensemble, playing with an assurance and ardor that bordered on fanaticism." L'Aurore's critic said, "Never before have we heard anything comparable to the sumptuous sonority of the strings and mordant quality of the trumpets." Said one Boston musician: "We did our best because we realized what it meant to Munch and Monteux to play in Paris."

John Roderick of the Associated Press (AP) wrote in his article on June 1, 1952, “America has Achieved Cultural Maturity...By the time the 110-piece orchestra had finished playing Ravel’s ‘Daphnis and Chloe, the diamond-studded audience was on its feet, shouting, yelling and applauding as never before.” The Los Angeles Times proclaimed “Free World Shows Europe She Has Come of Age, Culturally Speaking.”

(In 1956, the Boston Symphony Orchestra was the first American orchestra to perform in the Soviet Union.)

For more information on the Congress of Cultural Freedom, see

Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. New York: The New Press, 1999.

Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America. London, England: Harvard University Press, 2008.

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