“That’s No Way To Say Goodbye”: Maestro Mehta and Israel

 JERUSALEM, MEHTA, MAHLER AND HATIKVA

Beneath the Music 

Those are quite difficult moments, the moments of farewell. Especially if people are tight on in a family-like motto for the span of  two generations. No wonder that the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, brilliant and one of a kind, to me, took three months to depart with Maestro Mehta who led it for half of the century. Over the summer 2019, we saw the international farewell tour of the outstanding musicians with their outstanding conductor – and much more to that, and every time somebody in the vast orchestra had tears running down. No wonder. 

But on October 20th, 2019, during the very last concert of that so very apt and emotional, so millisecond-meaningful  The Mehta Farewell Festival in Jerusalem, everyone in the audience, in the orchestra, next to the screens of the live world-wide broadcast of the concert by Medici TV, struggled tears back. 

Conductor Zubin Mehta appears with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra during the traditional New Year’s concert at the Musikverein in Vienna, Austria,January 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak, File)

It was so much more special details and nuances in all the process of that emotional farewell. The great Maestro’s illness two years back, his absence from his orchestra which he always calls his family, and means it; his 8-month treatment in Los-Angeles; his return to his family in Jerusalem in October 2018, just a year ago – the short video on that moment is priceless. 

The tissue of human relations  the barometer of human intentions has made this story unique. It is also a special lesson of  dignity and professionalism to so many of us. Just have a look on the conduct of the Maestro Mehta’s successor, talented , modest and respectful Lahav Shani. It is absolutely right and great that a young Israeli conductor will work and raise with this unique orchestra, the best decision possible, indeed. 

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So, staged for three months, and coming to its crowning end with the brilliant three last concerts, Mehta’s farewell was coming to its last mile.

And what a concert it was!  We all knew that it was a historical event, the musicians knew, both Maestro Mehta and his wife did, and all this very high-voltage emotionally super-charge could make it difficult and somewhat stiff. But not in Jerusalem. And not with this orchestra. 

Every bit of it was deeply meaningful. Great Yefim Bronfman was not by chance chosen as the soloist for the evening, to play Liszt’s Piano Concert No 2 . It was Zubin Mehta forty four years ago, back in 1975, when young talented Soviet , now American, pianist Yefim Bronfman has made his notable debut. 

Neither Lahav Shani happened to be next to Bronfman by chance in added in the last minute Dvozak’s Slavonic Dance to be played fantastically with Bronfman in four hands. It was wonderful, fine, extremely tactful way of passing the button to the new leader of the orchestra, in the nicest and most subtle way possible.

New leader of The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Lahav Shani. (C) Musicfest Bremen.

In his very short address to the public in the overpacked Bronfman Auditorium in Jerusalem before the second part of that concert, dignified Maestro, fully in control over ocean of emotions all around him – and inside, too – gracefully mentioned about all generations of the orchestra that he had worked with in Jerusalem for the past fifty years. And, he said, especially the first one which he nicely named as ‘that incredible orchestra of Austro-Hungarian empire’. Indeed, it was. And what an orchestra it was!  So many legendary musicians were still there when young Zubin Mehta , the same young, as Lahav Shani now, started to work with his family, as he calls it, in the third decade of the IPO history. 

More than Music

In his profound, warm and so genuine conversation with Oren Nahari that is a part of this ever-to-be remembered Zubin Mehta Ceremony on October 20, 2019, Maestro did mention several important things.  That conversation was recorded at midnight of October 20th, literally in between two rehearsals, the late night one the previous night of October 19th, and early morning one on the day of the concert. Musicians knows that it is not an easy thing to do. 83-year old Maestro Mehta did it disarmingly, as if he was talking to everyone of us personally. 

He was talking, simply and trustfully, on his love to his orchestra. “What can I tell you? It is my family.” 

He was explaining on his choice for the second part of this last concert,  Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony No 2: “We have played this symphony of Mahler ( and Mehta is loving and justly famous interpreter of Mahler) at Masada, in a great, fantastic concert” – and his face was beaming with a special light.  

Maestro Zubin Mehta in interview. (C) Digital Concert Hall.

He was also  recalling the most memorable moment for him in his 50-year work with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra: the concert in Berlin when all of the sudden, prompted by igniting impulse he decided to play Hatikvah.I saw my musicians crying. But I also saw people in the Berlin hall crying. And that was important”.  

Maestro was referring to the crucially important episode in 1971 when the very idea to play or not in Berlin was debated within the orchestra and with the Israeli authorities at the time hotly. It was decided to play. And after the triumph of Mahler’s Symphony No.1 at the moment of encore, it was Zubin Mehta who commanded loudly: “Hatikvah!”. Who could forget the formatting moment like that? 

It is due to his real modesty that Zubin Mehta remembering the most memorable moments during a half of a century of his life and work with The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra did not mention another episode when at the Six Day War  in 1967 he did come to Israel to perform on a plane full of ammunition. That’s what I call a family-connection. 

The great maestro was also mentioning on his unfulfilled desire to play Wagner with this orchestra. To me personally, he is wrong. And it is not defined by still existing number of the Holocaust survivors among us, but by the decisive, deep, and vile Wagner’s hatred towards Jewish people and Jewish culture. But this is not the right moment to bring the issue in, I believe. 

Reminiscences

When Maestro Mehta was speaking to Oren Nahari on his ‘sudden decision to play Hatikvah’ for the encore in Berlin just 26 years after the end of WWII, I was thinking on another great orchestra leader who also led his orchestra for half of a century, the person whose life is the part of our family.

Famous Arnold Rose, the founder of the legendary Rose Quartet and concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, attested as ‘the best orchestra leader of our time’ was leading the best in the world at the time ensemble for over 50 years when he was kicked off his job in a blink of an eye, with his house confiscated and his family put in all-encompassing ostracism. 

Three months after the Anschluss to the day, Arnold’s wife Justine, sister of Gustav Mahler, dies of heart-attack. A few weeks after, British admirers of great Arnold helped him to relocate to London where he entered into completely different life, every day of  which was a struggle in all and every sense, with constant under-nutrition, bare surviving, and defragmenting dignity. My great-grand uncle lived to see the defeat of the Nazis – and also, tragically, the death of his beloved daughter Alma in Auschwitz. 

Rose family: Justine, Alma and Arnold. Vienna, 1933. From the Inna Rogatchi’s Shining Souls project (C).

He also lived to witness the first after the Second World War international tour of his Vienna orchestra. As it happened, it was to London, in 1946. Maestro Rose was even invited to join his orchestra on the stage during those significant London concerts. I was always thinking: ‘What on earth those people were thinking , over that hypocritical and so utterly insensitive invitation?” 

Maestro Rose refused the invitation, saying: “There are still too many Nazis on the stage”. 

I was thinking on him, his wife Justine, the Mahler’s beloved sister, on their daughter Alma perished in Auschwitz being just 44, on my other uncle Alexander Bujanover ( it is my maiden name), a young doctor of 28 who died in the DCP camp treating scores of shadows of men there and having contracting typhoid which killed him in no time, on my grand aunt Eleanore Rose, Alexander’s mother who never overcame the death of her beloved son, exactly as her uncle Arnold did over the death of Alma. 

Concerting violinist in London, Eleanor was the only member of the Rose-Mahler family who was there with elderly Arnold during his so devastating last six years in the Nazi shadows, even outside and after the Reich. 

I am thinking: forty eight years ago, Zubin Mehta deciding to play Hatikvah on that stage in Berlin just 500 metres from Reichstag and at the time of the Frankfurt Trials, did it for so many of the victims of the Nazis and their families, including the family of great musicians, Arnold Rose and his and mine destroyed family. 

I would be grateful for Maestro Mehta for that for ever. But the fact that this stellar musician himself is thinking, almost fifty years on, that this very moment is the most important for him in his over 50 years’ career with IPO, makes the impulse of a musician a great deed of a rare man. 

Mahler Forever  

The Hatikvah encore in Berlin in 1971 did come after triumphal performing by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Mahler’s Symphony No.1 . 

On the night before his last concert with the IPO, Maestro Mehta with inner light coming out of him was remembering just one more episode in his very long and incredibly eventful career, the famous IPO concert at Masada. 

We were playing Mahler’s Second ( Symphony) there, Resurrection!” – Maestro was enlightened by his own memories now, 31 years after that unbelievable concert that was a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and which was attended by four thousand people at the time when nobody ever thought on any kind of festival at Masada, and that historical concert was heavily guarded due to the First Intifada – which did not discourage that incredible man, Zubin Mehta.

Inna Rogatchi (C). MAHLER. The Second. MAHLER series. Original art panel. 80 x 100 cm. 2018-2019.

During all his long, brilliant, and very productive career, Mehta had a special dialogue with Mahler. He is known – and will be remembered – as one of the most profound of the Mahler’s interpreters. In my view, it is because of two things: his intellectual capacity to perceive the Mahler Space and to be in-tuned in it naturally; and because he is reading the music of the genius very honestly, intimately, with love. Mehta reads Mahler by heart – and thus understands and feels him as one of the best.  

And it is because of this warm, intimate, organic understanding that Maestro Mehta did chose to perform Mahler at all his most important concerts  and events of his and his family orchestra, the IPO, during the last fifty years. 

To feel Mahler like that, in the family motion, is truly a rare phenomenon. Everybody, almost, plays Mahler as it is a sign of a high-brow art. Very few understand and feel Mahler – not because he is difficult. But because he is different. Organically different. As a rainbow at the moment of rain. 

Mehta and IPO are playing Mahler as if Mahler himself sings his scores to them. And those are scores of universal and timeless genius who is first and foremost  a Jewish genius, with a special code of soul, and a special crypt of message, to be unveiled in a special way.  

Mahler’s genius is unique because it does not start from any certain point. Mozart does – and creates a new universe of its own. Bach does  – and establishes a kingdom of innermost reflections. 

Mahler and his space always has been there. It just needed that man, Gustav Mahler, to reveal it. The thought that he is my third grand great-uncle makes me dizzy every day of my life.  And what makes me endlessly intrigued is that since I was a small child, his difficult and not always melodic music had grabbed my inner-self in the way a strong magnet does.   

Zubin Mehta happened to know the way to read Mahler authentically. The Maestro’s favourite word when he is speaking on the profession is honesty. Sounding simple, as many things said by Mehta, his honesty term includes highest professionalism, hardest work, intellectual integrity, performing sincerity, and most and foremost – love. As simple, and as crucial, as that. 

And his admirable devotion to Israel and its people. 

At the moment when Maestro Mehta was remembering the Hatikvah played in Berlin in 1971, I knew what encore would be now, 48 years later, at the moment of his farewell to IPO. 

Inna Rogatchi (C). HATIKVAH. Original art panel. 80 x 60 cm. 2014. Private collection. Israel.

There were two Hatikvah played that evening, October 20, 2019, one opening the concert, and that just unbelievable though expected encore. During that second Hatikvah, Maestro Mehta turned to the public and conduct the hall full of people all singing our anthem in unison. Who could ever forget that moment. 

“That’s No Way to Say GoodBye” – knew ever-wise Leonard Cohen. In this case, it is so very true. 

 

October 2019

About the Author
Inna Rogatchi is internationally acclaimed writer, scholar and film-maker, the author of widely prized film on Simon Wiesenthal The Lessons of Survival. Her professional trade-mark is inter-weave of history, culture and mentality. She is the author of the concept of the Outreach to Humanity cultural and educational projects conducted internationally by The Rogatchi Foundation of which Inna is the co-founder and President. She is the wife of the world renowned artist Michael Rogatchi. Inna's family is related to the famous Rose-Mahler musical dynasty. Her professional interests are focused on Jewish heritage, Holocaust and post-Holocaust, arts and culture. She is twice laureate of the Italian Il Volo di Pegaso Italian National Art, Literature and Music Award, the Patmos Solidarity Award, and the New York Jewish Children's Museum Award for Outstanding Contribution into the Arts and Culture (together with her husband). Inna Rogatchi is the member of the Board of the Finnish National Holocaust Remembrance Association.
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