As cultural ambassadors for the State of Israel, the musicians of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra tour the world, broadening the global reputation oftheir country. Perhaps the most notable aspect of their mission, however, is the historic message which they take far beyond the borders of Israel – peace through music. This week , under the direction of Music Director Zubin Mehta, they arrive in the United States, opening their eight-city tour at New York City’s Carnegie Hall.
This tour is of special importance, marking as it does the 35th anniversary of the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Since its founding in 1936, the Orchestra has forged a strong relationship with its supporters in the United States – the first major fundraising gala having been held at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City in 1936, ‘chaired’ by Albert Einstein.
During this coast to coast US tour, the Philharmonic will perform at benefit concerts in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Cleveland, and appear in San Diego, Dallas and Palm Desert as well.
The remit of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is wide and varied. In addition to its extensive touring schedule, the ensemble performs in subscription and Youth Concert series, in concerts which form part of the Arts for the People project throughout Israel, and in special performances for soldiers of the Israeli Defense Force at their outposts. It premieres works by Israeli composers, is committed to the cultivation of talented young artists from both Israel and abroad, and regularly hosts the world’s greatest conductors and soloists.
The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1936 by the Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman. A violin virtuoso and humanitarian, Huberman was committed to developing his flourishing career until Hitler came to power in Germany, resulting in a series of events which Huberman could not ignore. Moving his career aside, he devoted his energies to a four-year struggle to procure exit documents for over seventy Jewish musicians who had been fired from orchestras throughout Central Europe, and arranged for them and their families to travel to Palestine – some of the one thousand Jews whom he saved from the Holocaust. Huberman’s story of the founding of the Orchestra was the subject of a documentary, Orchestra of Exiles, made in 2012 by Oscar-nominated writer and director, Josh Aronson.
These musicians – originating in 17 different countries, across three continents – formed the nucleus of the ensemble which was originally called the Palestine Orchestra, the inaugural concert of which, conducted by Arturo Toscanini, took place in the Levant Fair Hall in Tel Aviv on 26th December, 1936. Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the Orchestra changed its name to the Israel Philharmonic.
Zubin Mehta was appointed Music Advisor of the Israel Philharmonic in 1969, Music Director in 1977, and Music Director for Life in 1981. He has led the Israel Philharmonic in more than 3,000 concerts, and his tours with the Orchestra span five continents. Much in demand as an orchestral and operatic conductor, Maestro Mehta is a former Music Director of the Montreal Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chief Conductor of the Orchestra del Maggio Musiale Fiorentino, and was the longest serving Music Director of the New York Philharmonic in the orchestra’s history – for a period of 13 years.
He is the recipient of a dazzling array of honors and awards from illustrious organizations such as the Vienna State Opera, the Bavarian State Opera, and the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde Wien, as well as the Vienna, Munich and Los Angeles philharmonics, the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, and the Bavarian State Orchestra. A Kennedy Center Honoree, Maestro Mehta was also presented with the Una vita nella musica – Artur Rubinstein prize at Teatro La Fenice in Venice, the Praemium Imperiale by the Japanese Imperial Family, the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit by the Federal Republic of Germany, the Tagore Award for Cultural Harmony by the Indian government, the Furtwängler Prize at the Bonn Beethovenfest for his “dedication both to music and social issues”, and the Dan David Prize.
Other distinguished names which have been associated with the Israel Philharmonic include Leonard Bernstein who became the Laureate Conductor of the Orchestra in 1988, Kurt Masur who was appointed Honorary Guest Conductor in 1992, and Yoel Levi who was Principal Guest Conductor as of the 2001-02 season. The current Principal Guest Conductor is Gianandrea Noseda – Musical America’s 2015 Conductor of the Year.
The Israel Philharmonic’s US tour opens at Carnegie Hall on 5th November with a benefit concert, at which the main work will be Mahler’s Symphony No 2 in C minor (Resurrection), with soprano Kristin Lewis, mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung and MasterVoices. Other works featured on the tour include Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor (From the New World), Ravel’s choreographic poem, La valse, and A Journey to the End of the Millennium by contemporary Georgian composer Josef Bardanashvili.