Esor Ben-Sorek

Music for the Angels

Some time ago, my daughter Liora asked me what I would like for my 85th birthday (which is only 4 months away).  I replied “I need nothing. Just a card, a hug and many kisses”. Talking to my daughter is like talking to the kotel…. a wall which does not hear.

But she surprised me months in advance and invited me to be her guest in New York on 25 October at the famed Carnegie Hall for a special gala all-Mozart program with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Near the entrance to the concert hall, several pro-Palestinian protesters stood holding signs reading “Israel is an apartheid State”, “Boycott Israel”, “Support BDS”, “Israel kills innocent Palestinians”, things we have unfortunately seen before. Nothing new.

I was surprised that there was no security. All it took to enter the concert hall was to show a ticket. Nothing like the good security we have in Israel in all public places.

My daughter and I entered and took our seats. The anticipation of the audience was contagious.

One could be deafened by the rousing applause that did not want to cease when the conductor, Zubin Mehta, walked on to the stage. The 81 year old India-born conductor has been the music director and conductor of the IPO for the past 50 years. He is a living legend throughout the world and is a tribute to the brilliance of the symphony orchestra, founded in 1936 by the Polish-Jewish violinist, Bronislaw Huberman. The symphony orchestra’s inaugural concert was conducted by Arturo Toscanini and it has hosted musical giants over the past 81 years.

The opening of the gala performance began with the playing of the American national anthem followed by the playing (and my singing) of Naphtali Herz Imber’s HATIKVAH, our Israeli national song of hope.

The formal program then proceeded with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s overture to the opera “The Marriage of Figaro” followed by his Symphony number 36 in C major (the Linzersymphonie).

The sold-out audience of 2800 people went wild with enthusiastic applause. I know the seating capacity because I asked one of the ushers. He told me “seats in the parquet and the 4 upper balconies are 2800 in number and tonight there is not one empty seat” !

A brief intermission. And then, Zubin Mehta returned to the stage followed by two world-renowned soloists, Itzhak Perlman on the violin and Pinchas Zuckerman on the viola.

The audience rose as a body to its feet with shouts of “bravo, bravo” which could probably be heard in Tel-Aviv.

They were “in love” with both artists and could not refrain from standing many minutes clapping hands and shouting praises.

Pinhas Zuckerman was born in Tel-Aviv 70 years ago and this year marks his ninth as principal guest conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and he is a recipient of the National Medal of Arts and the Isaac Stern Award for Artistic Excellence. Standing beside his long-time friend, Itzhak Perlman, the cheering, shouting and hand-clapping only increased.

Itzhak Perlman is a super-star, a legend in his lifetime. He was born in Tel-Aviv in 1945, three years before  our independence from the British Mandate in Palestine. At the age of four years, he was tragically struck by polio which left his legs paralyzed. He wheels himself onto and off the stage in a specially fitted mobilized scooter.

He looked at the audience when he first appeared on the stage and in perfect English he thanked the audience for their wild applause and told them “why are you clapping now? Wait until I have finished playing. Who knows? You might not enjoy it”, to which the massive audience only rose to its feet and continued clapping louder and louder.

Itzhak Perlman is a true inspiration. A man, crippled in his youth, went on to become one of the world’s greatest violinists.

When their solo performance ended, both Perlman and Zuckerman bowed in thanks to the audience and left the stage, only to be called back three times by an audience which did not want the evening to end.

It was a night of music for the angels. Fabulous and magnificent are not words sufficient enough to describe the magic of the evening. Breath-taking would be a better word. Even the angels would rejoice.

As much as I dislike New York city with its crowded sidewalks and heavily-trafficked streets, the shoving and pushing, the endless tooting of horns, this is one visit I shall always remember. Sitting in the fourth row in front of the stage I felt that I could reach out and touch the hands of the gifted musicians.

We Israelis have so much to be proud of and to boast of our superior culture in the arts and the music.

When I return to Israel I shall make it a point to attend future concerts of the marvelous musicians in our Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. They make music for the angels and even for the commoners like me.

I hugged and kissed my daughter and thanked her profusely for her wonderful gift to me. And then, I asked her:

“OK. Now what are you planning to do for my 90th birthday? It’s only five years away.”

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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