THE POWER OF ONE: ORCHESTRA OF EXILES
By Ariella Bracha Waldinger
The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is one of Israel’s oldest and most influential cultural institutions and is the premier symphony orchestra in Israel. It is also serves as Israel’s premier cultural ambassador, travelling extensively throughout the world, particularly to countries with little or no Jewish presence such as China and Japan. Its beginnings can be traced to the power of one: one man who considered the creation of a Jewish symphony in the Holy Land to be a most worthy endeavor.
The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) was originally known as the Palestine Orchestra and was founded in December, 1936 by renowned Polish born, Jewish violinist and musician Bronislaw Huberman. Bronislaw, born in 1882, was one of the most celebrated violinists of his time. He was a child prodigy, who at the age of 12 played a Brahms violin solo for Brahms, himself. In the 1920’s and 30’s, he toured Europe and was regularly invited to perform in private for Europe’s royal families. When his father, who was his business manager, suddenly passed away, Bronislaw cancelled all his concerts to pursue an education at the Sorbonne in Paris. He emerged from that experience a different man. He returned to his monumental career but with a heightened sensitivity to the realities of the time, especially the Jewish reality.
Bronislaw was a man of enormous talent but more-so a visionary. At a time when classical musicians were renowned and held in great esteem, he took hold of a different vision—a vision for his people in their ancient homeland. Confronted with the world war, anti-Semitism, and the evils of Germany, Bronislaw shifted his imagination and moral fortitude to create a legacy of music and in particular, a symphony orchestra of renown in the Jewish homeland. He transformed from a career driven man to a politically aware musician and humanist. “One has to build a fist against anti-Semitism…a first class orchestra will be this fist,” he said. The orchestra represented the fulfillment of his dream “to unite the desire of the country with the desire of Jewish musicians for a country.” Leon Botstein, former president of Bard College said, “Bronislaw stepped out in front with all his stardom and fame to show that the threat of Nazism would not destroy the cultural achievement of the Jewish people.”
Bronislaw was aided and assisted in the formation of the orchestra by many famous Jews including violinist Jacob Surowicz, conductor William Steinberg, Albert Einstein and others. Their help, contacts and resources played a vital role in the creation of the orchestra but it was the clarity of Bronislaw’s dream that drove him when the road became rough.
In 1929, Bronislaw visited Palestine for the first time and like many Jews throughout our history, seemed to be awakened by some mystical calling. He began to develop his vision of establishing classical music in the Promised Land. In 1933, he declined numerous invitations to perform for the Germans and instead wrote a letter to German, Jewish intellectuals inviting them to REMEMBER THEIR ESSENTIAL VALUES. These letters were the beginning process of recruiting leading Jewish musicians, who were no longer allowed to play in orchestras in their respective countries. He spent countless hours trying to persuade these outstanding musicians to immigrate to Israel. Bronislaw had the foresight to realize that far more than a new job was at stake for these artists. In fact, if it hadn’t been for him, dozens of musicians and their families, nearly 1000 people, would have perished. The various musicians spoke German, Polish, Hungarian, Russian and some spoke Hebrew. What dedication and determination must have presented itself, as these musicians speaking in different languages, set out to create a harmonious symphony through the language of music? One could state that the high point of Branislaw’s achievements must have been the rescue of some of the world’s greatest musicians from Nazi Germany in order to create one of the world’s greatest orchestras.
The first concert took place on December 26th, 1936 in Tel Aviv at the Levant Fair Hall. The symphony was conducted by the great Maestro, Arturo Toscanini. He had refused to perform in Germany to protest the Nazi take-over. He escaped the rise of Fascism in Italy and graciously left his own orchestra in order to “render paternal care to the newly born.” “I am doing this for humanity,” he said. Can you imagine the joy as the first Jewish Symphony Orchestra sounded its melodious notes and chords in its national, biblical homeland? Can you imagine what it must have felt like to be a Jew in the Holy Land attending a full blown symphony concert of outstanding Jewish musicians? It was called the Orchestra of exiles. I am sure tears fell and hearts swelled and the world looked on as this miraculous undertaking came to fruition—through the Power of One! What pride must have saturated the souls of all the Jews in the Homeland and throughout the world, especially Bronislaw Huberman, considering what was going on in the world at the time?
In the inspiring book titled “The Mystical Power of Music,” by Rabbi Avraham Aryeh Trugman, he writes in the introduction, “Music more than any other medium, has the unique ability to express and mirror the full range of human emotions, consciousness and experience. Nothing captures the particular essence of a specific culture, religion, era or individual better than music. It allows the soul to soar to heavenly heights, giving wings to man’s most glorious aspirations and dreams.” I believe this was the driving force behind Bronislaw and these overpowering emotions must have been fully present at that first Symphony performance.
During World War II, the IPO performed for the Allied Forces in a concert in the Western desert before soldiers of the Jewish Brigade. During the siege of Jerusalem in the War of Independence, its members traveled in armored cars, in order to perform. One of the most moving moments in the orchestra’s history was of renowned conductor, Leonard Bernstein, conducting the orchestra in front of 5,000 soldiers on the Negev dunes during the battle for Beersheva.
Initially, the IPO did not have a music director per se but had music advisors. In 1977, they elected their first formal music director: world renowned Zubin Mehta. He became music director for life in 1981. The IPO has hosted some of the world’s greatest conductors including Isaac Stern, Pinchus Zuckerman, Arthur Rubinstein and many more. Their time and talent have enriched the orchestra and enabled it to maintain its high artistic standards. The orchestra gives over 130 home performances each year, with 12 different concert series presented in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.
The Orchestra has made a number of recordings with both Leonard Bernstein OBM and Igor Stravinsky and also collaborated with Japanese composer Yoko Kanno. Under the esteemed leadership of Zubin Mehta, world class conductor, they continue to absorb new immigrants into their ranks. For an outstanding and exciting account of the creation of this orchestra, watch the 2012 documentary by Josh Aronson, titled, “Orchestra of Exiles.” It depicts the birth of the Palestine Symphony orchestra which in 1948, with the creation of the Jewish State, became known as the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra.
I fell in love with the symphony orchestra when a 5th grade student, on a field trip. In spite of being 10 years of age, I had a very strong emotional response to the extraordinarily moving music. The interplay of the varied orchestra components drew me in, causing me to lose myself in the magnificent variety of sounds. I felt transformed as the entire experience stirred my imagination, inspiring me to lofty thoughts and magical musings. At the time, I did not understand it’s depth but it sparked a love affair with classical orchestral concerts that continues until today. After making Aliyah, my husband and I decided we wanted to experience the IPO in order to savor all things Israeli. As the performance began, we were surprised to see the patrons all rise as the renowned conductor Zubin Mehta walked on stage. He then began to conduct the first symphonic piece which turned out to be: HATIKVA, THE NATIONAL ANTHEM. It was then I realized they were standing, not for the man, but for the national anthem. It was so moving and tears fell from my eyes and the eyes of my husband as we beheld the packed auditorium of Jews, being wondrously entertained by talented and gifted Jewish musicians. It was definitely a joining of soul and spirit and one of the most moving experiences of our time in Israel, our Jewish homeland.
We are all a part of a Jewish symphony orchestra called klal Yisrael. We know there is an overall scheme and pattern to the symphony. We each play our own unique part but we must blend in with the larger essence to allow the purpose of the Jewish nation—G-ds purpose—to become manifest in the world. There can only be one completely Jewish symphony orchestra and our Torah tells us its location—the Holy Land called Israel.
Bronislaw, the one who brought it all together, had a clarity of purpose and a sense of duty that few of us acquire. Zubin Mehta, musical director of the IPO stated, “The seeds of culture that Bronislaw planted here, that he brought from Central Europe, we are reaping its rewards today.” My fellow Jews, we too must acquire clarity of purpose and a sense of duty and destiny. We must have so much love for our Jewish nation that we leave behind our titles and acquisitions and claim our divinely assigned place in the symphony orchestra called the Jewish Nation: Klal Yisrael. We must use the example of Bronislaw and all those who have come before us, to inspire us, so we too can plant the seeds of our gifts and talents in the ever renewable energy field called Eretz HaKodesh.
With Blessings of Love and Light, Ariella Bracha