Sunday October 22nd 2023, a new season of the Israel Philharmonic, in my opinion, the best orchestra in the world, should have opened, with Mahler Third Symphony. But there was no opening, and no season. Nor for the Israeli Philharmonic, nor for any orchestra or theatre all over the country. ‘The cultural halls are dark here’ – we are reading somber lines coming from Israel these days.
But great Israeli musicians cannot be idle. It has been reported ( by Dan Yakir for Norman Lebrecht’s leading classical music Slipped Disk site) that the musicians of the Philharmonic ‘immediately grouped into three to four soloists’ ensembles and are performing in hospitals and at the hotels hosting the evacuated people”. Dan also mentioned that ‘Meitar Ensemble, Israel’s leading contemporary music team, is playing concerts for lonely elderly citizens’.
It is so true, we know that our sighs can turn into melody. It has happened all throughout our history. And it is happening now.
Instead of a festive opening of a new season, the Israeli Philharmonic gave on that very day, Sunday, October 22, 2023 a very special concert called Salute to Israel
In front of an empty hall. But not exactly empty the hall was. In the way of the trend of our sorrowful days, the seats of the first rows of the Bronfman Auditorium were adorned with 200 photographs of the kidnapped Israelis. The national pride of Israel led by Lahav Shani, nephew of our good friend, distinguished Israeli diplomat Dov Steinberg, played first and foremost to those whose faces the musicians were facing during an hour tribute to the nation.
Hatikvah is a universal code of unity for any Jew anywhere, and I mean it. I have heard numerous interpretations of Hatikvah during my life, some of them truly historical events, as played by the same Israeli Philharmonic orchestra led by Leonard Bernstein, or another one interpreted by Zubin Mehta. These days, we are hearing it a lot, every time stroking the innermost chords of our souls. But this Hatikvah which we heard – and saw, importantly – yesterday, will stay in my heart for good. I loved every single musician who almost all were playing standing. I loved their faces. It was the case when melody transformed into different way of expression altogether, and sounds were spoken. It was compassion in the purest form of it.
Lahav Shani, who is a young person, he is 34, gave a mature and touching short speech before the orchestra prepared for Beethoven’s Eroica. He continues the legacy of his great teachers and mentors, including Zubin Mehta, truly well, and in front of our eyes, Lahav emerges into a serious, meaningful figure which represents Israel at its best.
Eroica on that special evening, at this very special concert, was unique. Mighty but not overwhelmingly, showing all the inner strength of music, musicians and conductor, coherent, in a perfect harmony of everyone in the orchestra, a very special deed of every single musician and all of them together with their very able conductor.
Israel Philharmonic is known for its historical performances. We were privileged to have one more one last Sunday. The spirit of the entire Israel was playing on the stage in the Bronfman Auditorium yesterday. Israel knew it, and musicians and their conductor knew it as well. We all who were watching breathlessly world-wide, also knew it. It was a rare, undemonstrative, but extremely deep unity of us all.
After the final of Eroica, some of the musicians let their emotions go, at last. Some of them hugged each other. They knew how difficult it was for each and every one of them to play this Salute to Israel in front of empty seats with portraits of two hundreds people held hostage.
The degree of professionalism of this great orchestra is well-known world-wide. The degree of their dignity was shining at its brightest in the dimmed big empty hall on Sunday October 22, 2023 night.
Toda Raba, Lahav. Toda Raba, all fantastic musicians of the best orchestra in the world. Toda Raba to all and everyone who has organised this unique hymn of love and dignity.
The essay is part of Inna Rogatchi The War & Humanity special project.