Coast-to-coast U.S. tour trumpets Philharmonic anniversary

Since the festivities kicked off in mid-December with a series of concerts in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra has been celebrating its 70th anniversary in style, hosting appearances by many of the orchestra's friends from over the years.

The celebration continues with an American tour stopping in New York, San Francisco and, on Feb. 5-6, Los Angeles' Walt Disney Concert Hall.

“Everybody who is here has a history with the orchestra,” Avi Shoshani, the flamboyant secretary general of the orchestra, said the day before the celebration's Dec. 26 gala in Tel Aviv. “I want the orchestra's friends to be here … the music making is for real here.

People come here because they want to be here for the music, for Israel and whatever that stands for. Each of them is what we call a mensch.”

Indeed, that roster of mensches included violinists Maxim Vengerov and Gil Shaham; cellist Mischa Maisky; pianists Yefim Bronfman and Evgeny Kissin; conductors Lorin Maazel, Gustavo Dudamel and Valery Gergiev, and Daniel Barenboim on double duty as both conductor and pianist.

The festive gala concert at Tel Aviv's Mann Auditorium marked the anniversary of the orchestra's inaugural concert in 1936 and opened with celebratory excitement as Zubin Mehta, the orchestra's music director for life, conducted Pinchas Zukerman in the Bruch Violin Concerto.

When Zukerman began to play, the sound of his virtuosic violin rose into the air like a fiery klezmer from the past, with all the humor and musical interplay that only old friends can produce. The music was completely and irrepressibly Jewish, and at times conductor, orchestra and soloist seemed on the verge of laughter. Zukerman swayed with his violin in time with the conductor's baton, all the while grinning mischievously.

Outside it was raining, but inside the auditorium the thunder was from the enthusiastic applause of a delighted audience.

Next, maestro Mehta conducted a bombastic and decidedly unorthodox rendition of Ravel's “La Valse” that sent the critics screaming. Yet for a gala concert, it proved a crowd-pleasing treat.

The concert concluded with Barenboim at the piano performing Brahms First Piano Concerto in D Minor, with the audience reveling in a performance both strong and majestic and rising to their feet at the conclusion with a loud ovation.

After many bows and congratulations, Mehta wheeled out an enormous cake lit with 70 candles, as the orchestra struck up an impromptu “Happy Birthday to You.”

The American tour portion of the celebration begins in New York's Carnegie Hall on Jan. 30, with Maazel conducting Beethoven's Violin Concerto, featuring soloist Vengerov; Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3 and Mussorgsky's “Pictures at an Exhibition.” On Feb. 1, Mehta will conduct Weber's Der Freischütz Overture, Mahler's “Rückert Lieder” and Berlioz' “Symphonie Fantastique.”

On Feb. 4 the tour continues at San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall, where Mehta will conduct Beethoven's Leonore Overture, Schoenberg's “Verklärte Nacht” and reprise Berlioz' “Symphonie Fantastique” from the Carnegie Hall appearance.

The tour comes to Los Angeles' for two nights, with Mehta repeating the San Francisco program on the first night, followed on the second by Maazel conducting Mendelssohn's Fourth Symphony and the Hebrides Overture, Tchaikovsky's “Romeo and Juliet”

Click the BIG ARROW to view the IPO perform the Fourth Movement of Berlioz' 'Symphony Fantastique'