TEL AVIV. Israelis aren’t known for ovations at orchestra concerts. Rhythmic clapping is usually as close as audiences come, and the Philadelphia Orchestra received that plus an extremely rare standing ovation at Charles Bronfman Auditorium following Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 on Monday, June 4th.
At a reception following the concert — the next to last date on the orchestra’s 2018 Tour of Europe and Israel — music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin also received a public invitation from Israel Philharmonic secretary general Avi Shoshani to guest-conduct the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
“Maybe 2022?” Nézet-Séguin said.
Also at the reception, attended by musicians and administrators from both orchestras, as well as patrons on the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's orchestra tour, the Philadelphians received overt recognition of the controversy they faced for their trio of concerts in Israel: Sunday in Haifa, Monday in Tel Aviv, and Tuesday's scheduled concert in Jerusalem.
“We don’t take it for granted that you’ve come here,” said Yoel Abadi, horn player and management member of the Israel Philharmonic orchestral committee, referring to the pro-Palestinian protests that interrupted performances in Philadelphia and, on tour, in Brussels.
Not that any visiting orchestra is taken for granted. Such events are rare here because funding for such visits is scarce. Philadelphia philanthropists – facilitated by the Federation – made the current tour possible.
Joseph Neubauer was one of two dignitaries to speak before the concert. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai was the other.
At the post-concert reception, Nézet-Séguin re-iterated his "the-world-needs-more-love" message that has been part of his standard introduction to audiences with the encore, Elgar's Salut d’amour.
Numerous connections between Philadelphia and Tel Aviv were noted by the Israel Philharmonic's Shoshani, chief among them being that a 1961 cancellation of a guest-conducting appearance by longtime Philadelphia music director Eugene Ormandy that led to the last-minute hiring of Zubin Mehta, who is now 82, and has led the orchestra for roughly 50 years.
Bronfman Auditorium was, for decaades, named Mann Auditorium – as in Philadelphia’s Fredric R. Mann, who died in 1987 at age 83 – prior to its renovation three years ago.
The Monday concert was one of the biggest successes of the tour. The hall’s notoriously dry acoustics have been improved immensely, prompting yet another lean, swift, scintillating reading of the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4.
Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 (“The Age of Anxiety”) has been received thoughtfully but not extravagantly on previous tour stops. Monday in Tel Aviv, there was rhythmic clapping with this piece, too.
The symphony deals with the aftermath of external trauma and the deeper sense of agitation that remains, suggesting emotional parallels between the piece and the renewed border tension this week between Israel and Gaza.
Burning kites sent from Gaza as part of that confrontation have caused wildfires in Southern Israel and may prompt schedule changes for some of the activities scheduled on the patron tour that continues a few days after the orchestra’s performance tour ends.
Earlier in the day was a meeting of remarkable orchestras: The combined Philadelphia Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, and Buchmann-Mehta School of Music Symphony Orchestra played Bernstein’s Candide overture and the Brahms Symphony No. 3, respectively led by Philadelphia’s assistant conductor Kensho Watanabe and Eyal Ein-Habar.
That concert, at Tel Aviv University, was free, and 1,400 tickets were claimed inside of three hours.
Ein-Habar, the Buchmann-Mehta school’s faculty conductor, said one of the specific qualities that Philadelphia brought to the table was softness: “Even though there are only 15 members [actually 19], I can hear their sound very clearly.
"For instance," he said, "the pianos and the pianissimos are marvelous, and effect the whole orchestra. It changes our dynamic levels.” So it was especially in Brahms’ third movement. But in the final movement, the Israeli players were clearly off and running with clean entrances and musical events writ large.
Master classes followed in the music school.
Principal tuba player Carol Jantsch emphasized that her instrument requires so much effort for producing sound that a clear, cultivated mental image of the music’s message is an essential starting point.
Principal oboist Richard Woodhams, who is retiring at the end of the season and is considered to be the star of the Philadelphia Orchestra, divulged an unorthodox technique for keeping moisture from building up in unwanted corners of the instrument.
He uses waterproofing boot spray, applied carefully and with warnings not to actually breath it in.
The visit took place amid the incongruous sight of some students in the halls wearing brown military uniforms: Roughly 10 percent of the students are currently serving their obligatory military service, but in tandem with musical studies. None of those were seen in the masterclasses with Philadelphia Orchestra musicians.
David Patrick Stearns will report from the orchestra’s tour through June 7. WRTI's scheduled broadcast from the Tel Aviv concert has been postponed. Scheduled to run live Monday, it will now be broadcast Tuesday at 3 p.m. Tuesday's scheduled concert from Jerusalem will broadcast at 3 p.m. Wednesday.
David Patrick Stearns' coverage of The Philadelphia Orchestra on Tour is made possible by a partnership between the Philadelphia Inquirer and WRTI.