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Alfred Hertz: A Conductor Who Tried Harder

Pristine Classical, the acclaimed historic recordings website, is honoring the German-born Jewish conductor Alfred Hertz with an ongoing reissue series, available both online and on CD. The reissues feature Hertz conducting the San Francisco Symphony in sprightly performances of Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Brahms’s Hungarian Dances, and deft renditions of ballet music by Delibes.

After a 13 year stint at the Metropolitan Opera, Hertz left New York to take over the San Francisco Symphony in 1915. His departure may have been partly motivated by the Met’s antisemitism. Stephen Birmingham’s “‘Our Crowd’: The Great Jewish Families of New York” reminds us that despite donating millions of dollars, the Jewish banker Otto Kahn was not allowed to purchase Met box seats. In any event Hertz preferred Frisco, even after the night of April 17, 1906, when he was woken by the city’s historic earthquake following a performance of “Carmen” with Enrico Caruso.

Hertz was also a Wagner specialist, as can be heard on 1913 outings with the Berlin Philharmonic, available on CD from Naxos. Hertz’s Wagner enraged the composer’s widow Cosima, however, who wanted to restrict Der Meister’s music to Bayreuth.

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Alfred Hertz: A Conductor Who Tried Harder

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