The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

One of the country's finest cultural assets

In the mid 1930's, the famous Polish born violinist, Bronislaw Huberman, sensing the looming danger facing Jews in Europe, conceived the idea of recruiting musicians willing to immigrate to Palestine to found an orchestra. Some seventy five Jewish instrumentalists from major European Orchestras answered his call and the inaugural concert of this body of musicians, known as the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra, was conducted by the great maestro Arturo Toscanini on 26 December, 1936. With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the orchestra changed its name to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO).

IPO.jpgThe Israel Philharmonic Orchestra with Zubin Mehta, their current music director at the Frederic R. Mann auditorium.


Arturo Toscanini, who conducted the inaugural concert of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 1937.

From the very outset, the IPO has succeeded in hosting most of the world's greatest conductors. Besides Toscanini, the rostra that have graced the IPO's podium include such luminaries as Abbado, Bernstein, Celibidache, de burgos, Dorati, Dudamel, Gergiev, Giulini, Kertesz, Krips, Kubelik, Koussevitzky, Levine, Maazel, Markevitch, Martinon, Mitropoulos, Muti, Ormandy, Paray, Rattle, Schreier, Solti and von Dohnanyi amongst many others. Soloists include a veritable who's who of the twentieth century's greatest stars. Amongst the pianists are Arrau, Ax, Bronfman Gould, Kissin, Lang Lang, Lupu, Rubinstein, Schiff and Serkin. Bell, Elman, Francescatti, Heifetz, Menuhin, Milstein, Oistrakh, Stern, Szeryng and Vengerov were some of the violinists and Casals, Du Pre, Piatigorsky, Rostropovich, Tortelier and Yo Yo Ma the cellists. Singers have included Battle, Caballe, Forester, Horne, Norman, Peters, Price, Tourel, Domingo, Merrill, Pearce, Pavarotti, Raimondi, Tucker and Vickers. These lists are simply samplers and by no means all inclusive. Many other famous artists have performed with the IPO. For the last 40 years, the orchestra has had a special relationship with Israeli musicians Barenboim, Perlman and Zuckerman.

In 1957, the orchestra moved into its permanent home, a state of the art concert hall known as the Frederic R. Mann auditorium which seats 2700 music lovers. In 1969, Zubin Mehta was appointed Music Advisor to the IPO and in 1977 he became its Music Director and Music Director for Life in 1981.

Each season the orchestra gives 11 subscription concerts in Tel Aviv, 8 in Jerusalem and several in Haifa. To take account of all 26,000 subscribers, each concert in Tel Aviv has to be repeated from 3 to 4 times. Unlike most European orchestras where up to 80% of the budget comes from the state, this only amounts to about 15% of the IPO's budget; the remainder comes from ticket sales and contributions.

In addition to the subscription series, the orchestra also gives several special non-subscription concerts as well as concerts for Israel Defense Force soldiers at their outposts. The IPO also travels to outlying areas of the country to perform in Kibbutzim and border towns. Other recent innovations include an intermezzo series given on Friday mornings in Haifa and Jerusalem. This has served to solidify IPO bases in centers away from Tel Aviv. Following coffee and cake, each work to be played is introduced by a prominent musicologist. This series has proved to be immensely popular since most people do not work on Friday.

Other innovative series at the IPO include Musical Bites, a series offering a kaleidoscope of music from oratorios and cantatas to symphonies and piano concertos, from Indian music to classical opera. An added attraction is beer on the house. The Philharmonic in Jeans has become a magnet for the young and middle-aged. Every concert is presented by a well-known figure from the Israeli media and arts scene. In addition, there is a Chamber Music Series featuring celebrated soloists and musicians in an intimate atmosphere.

Mehta took the initiative in founding the Buchman-Mehta School of Music at Tel Aviv University where an academy of leading IPO players coach tomorrow's musicians. The "KeyNote" program is the education department of the IPO. Within the framework of this program, every year 20,000 participants whose age ranges from kindergarten to university are exposed to classical music.

As the preeminent cultural body in Israel, the orchestra has performed at the most momentous events in the country's history. It played the National Anthem, Hatikvah (Hope) at the official ceremony of the declaration of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. One of the most memorable concerts was given in the sand dunes of the recently liberated city of Beersheba during the Israel War of Independence, a concert which was conducted by the young Leonard Bernstein. In July 1967, Bernstein conducted Mahler's Resurrection Symphony at the Amphitheatre of the Hebrew University at Mount Scopus following the conclusion of the Six Day War and the reopening of this university campus which had been out of bounds to Israelis for 19 years. During this time, there was a performance of Verdi's Requiem in Bethlehem.

At times of crises such as the 1973 Yom Kippur war, great friends of the orchestra including Mehta, Barenboim, Zuckerman and Stern cancelled all their international obligations and rushed to Israel as a sign of solidarity and play for the wounded soldiers. In the 1991 Gulf War, Mehta conducted the IPO with both the violinist Stern with the audience wearing gas masks. In the optimism following the Oslo accords, the IPO got onto the bandwagon and members trained Palestinian and Jewish children for a joint concert conducted by Mehta in Jerusalem.

In the early 1940's, the orchestra undertook its first overseas tour which was to Egypt, one of the country's closest neighbors. The first international tour to the US occurred in 1950 and soon after this, the orchestra began touring Europe. The IPO was first invited to perform in the main European summer festivals in Salzburg, Lucerne and Edinburgh in 1971 and today they annually tour the world's major cultural centers and its prestigious festivals. The IPO have also appeared in Mexico, Japan, India, Russia and China as well as several other countries. Throughout its history, the IPO has had several recording contracts with international labels including Decca, Sony, EMI, DGG and Teldec amongst others.

One of the most moving recent concerts given by the IPO consisted of a performance of Leonard Bernstein's Symphony no 3, the Kaddish, with a text "A dialogue with God" written and narrated by the Holocaust survivor, Dr Samuel Pisar. The word Kaddish refers to the prayer chanted for the dead and most fittingly this performance took place in an open outdoor square in Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. Full marks to the acoustical engineers who managed to put up a sophisticated

amplification system so that orchestra and soloists could be clearly heard without distortion. In this most moving performance, the orchestra was conducted by John Axelrod and the solo soprano was Danna Glazer.

The IPO frequently give concert performances of operas. In the last season this included Verdi's Il Trovatore and Rigoletto. Zubin Mehta, an experienced opera conductor, pulled out all the stops in Trovatore and gave a dramatic and coherent reading of Verdi's masterful score. Since the orchestra was onstage with the singers, Mehta held in the reins and did not drown out the singers. Prominent amongst the soloists was the impressive soprano, Julianna di Giacomo, as Leonora. In the fortissimo passages her soaring soprano could be easily heard. She was equally at home in her solo passages as well as in the ensembles. Tenor Salvatore Licitra as the troubadour Manrico, carried off his battle cry aria "Di quella pira" ("The horrid flames of that pyre") and its high C's with a flourish. Baritone Alberto Bagazalo as the Count di Luna had a shaky start but then settled in well.

In the last season, the IPO performed Brahms's major orchestral works. Pianist Rudolf Buchbinder opened the season under the baton of Mehta in Brahms' two formidable piano concerti played in one concert. The IPO rounded of this program with Brahms's first symphony. This was a spellbinding concert. The string playing was beyond reproach. Woodwinds were particularly impressive in the second movement and brass in the third.

In another concert, Murray Perahia put his personal indelible stamp on an authoritative rendering of Beethoven's fourth piano concerto. This was great Beethoven played by a real maestro. The second movement in particular was most arresting. The program also included an account of Richard Strauss's Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life). In this somewhat egotistic tone poem, Strauss promoted himself as the hero. Mehta is a great exponent of the music of Richard Strauss and gave an impeccable performance of this work. Until a few years ago, the music of Strauss was banned in Israel because of his Nazi associations. This has now been lifted but the informal ban on the music of the virulent anti-Semite, Richard Wagner, is still in place.

The program also included a world premiere by Israeli composer, Ella Milch-Sheriff, which was specially commissioned by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Titled "Night's End Anthem," it is based on a poem by Roy Arad and Nathan Alterman and is scored for orchestra, 2 sopranos and children's choir. It also included a percussion section with rhythmic drum beating darbukas (classic Middle Eastern drums), played by a young group from the Shanti House Drummers Circle (The Shanti House is a home for homeless youth and several courses are given there, one being on percussion instruments). Milch-Sheriff's rich rhythmic tonal score was similar in style to that of Stravinsky and the music was characterized by sudden changes in rhythm, mood and atmosphere. It should be noted that the IPO have premiered many works of Israeli composers and the orchestra had done much to foster the absorption of new immigrants, many of whom have joined the IPO ranks.

The Honorary Guest Conductor of the IPO, Kurt Masur, is internationally recognized as one of the great exponents of the music of Felix Mendelssohn. This is not surprising since Mazur was for many years the music director of the Leipzig

Gewanthaus Orchestra, an orchestra that was directed 150 years previously by Mendelssohn himself. One of Mazur's showpieces is Mendelssohn's Midsummer Nights Dream and he managed to captivate the wonderful lines and light buoyancy of the work. Noteworthy were the shimmering strings, gentle brass and woodwinds. Mazur really conveyed the elegance of the score. Worthy contributors to the success of the performance were Israeli singers, mezzo Edna Proshnik and soprano Tamar Kleinberger, and the Israeli based Moran Choir.

Another frequent welcome visitor to Israel is the world renowned German conductor Helmuth Rilling and his Gachinger Kantorei Choir from Stuttgart. This vocally impeccable group with a small ensemble of the IPO gave a memorable account of the first part of Haydn's Creation as part of the Intermezzo series and an unforgettable performance of Handel's Messiah in the subscription series. Most impressive of the vocal soloists in the Handel was countertenor Daniel Taylor but the real star of these performances was the Kantorei Choir.

Mehta opened the 2010-2011 season with violinist Leonidas Kavakos in a masterful rendering of Prokofiev's second violin concerto. The program also included a delightful short composition entitled Azerbaijani Dance which was based on traditional Azerbaijani melodies by Israeli composer Avner Dorman, specially commissioned for the opening of the season. The incorporation of eastern percussion instruments into this tonic rhythmic piece added much to its dramatic effect. The concert concluded with Stravinsky's Petrouchka. For this, the orchestra was joined by the Batsheva Dance Company. Choreographer Sharon Eyal mustered all her resources and the dancers put on an impressive show despite the small stage which was crowded with 16 dancers. Petrouchka is heard so often as a stand alone orchestral piece, that one forgets that it was originally conceived as a ballet. Mehta excels in this kind of repertoire and the whole concert showed the IPO at its best.

Due to world class institutions like the IPO, the cultural life in Israel is flourishing. People need diversions to take their minds off the often difficult day to day living as well as to cope with the existential threats facing the country.


It is an equally conservative vision regardless of community members espousing it – male or female.

The "Red Autum Leaf" is a Maple Leaf and it being red is an OBVIOUS tribute to Canada, meaning the young lady is most likely Canadian. And the "Small Dragon" doesn't look like a dragon. Dragons have wings, that tramp stamp looks more like a common panther tattoo with a twist.

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