A Philistine at the Israel Philharmonic

When I was a teen, I would come home on Sundays from four hours of intensive Hebrew School and invariably my father would be in the den with his precious stereo equipment, listening to some excruciatingly booorrrrring classical music.  If I didn’t close the door quietly enough, he would catch me entering and lasso me into the den, sit me down in the recliner and make me listen to whatever was on the turntable.  My lack of appreciation must have been a great disappointment to him but he never gave up.  While I was counting the minutes until I could lock the door to my bedroom and put on a Beatles record (yes, it was that long ago), he would be on the sofa conducting with his long, tapered fingers, sometimes with his eyes closed, absorbing every nuance. 

He is gone now, and it has taken decades, but my tastes have miraculously evolved.  I swoon when I hear Beethoven’s Seventh, which was one of his favorites.  I get ridiculously excited now when I hear a piece that he forced me to listen to.  “My Dad used to play that when I was a kid!!!”  Philistine that I am, it is usually something the whole world recognizes but to me is a revelation.  

Last night, we went to hear the Israel Philharmonic, with Yefim Bronfman at the piano.  First of all, I was awed by the variety of people who attend.  It was like a microcosm of The Ingathering – a Babel of languages, ethnicities, ages.  Then, once we were all quieted down and the lights were dimmed, the orchestra rang up a magnificent rendition of the HaTikvah.  Maybe for everyone else it was as ordinary as when The Star Spangled Banner is played at an American ball game.  I don’t know anyone who weeps at “O Say, Can You See,” but I was tearing up at “Kol Od BaLevav.”  The words, the melody, the history, the unity in that auditorium – all conspired to activate my tear ducts.   I guess I just haven’t been here long enough, or suffered enough from the challenges of living here, to get cynical about the singing of the national anthem.  (My friend, two seats over, caught me dabbing at my eyes with a tissue and said, “I guess we’ll be reading about this.”  When did I become so predictable?) 

After we all sat down, the orchestra began playing the first piece.  I knew when I bought the tickets that they would start with Brahms Piano Concerto Number 1, but that meant nothing to me.  Brahms?  Old guy with beard? Lullaby?  Fine, whatever.  But then I heard the first few bars.  “My Dad used to play that when I was a kid!!!”  “SHHHH!!!”

Oh my gosh – NOW I get it.  Now I see what he loved about this music.  Now I see why he wanted to me share his enthusiasm.  It is exquisite.  It’s a gift from Gd, music is. 

What would I give to go back to my youth and sit next to my father, silently sharing his passion.  What would I give if I could buy four tickets and treat my parents to a performance like this one, letting the music roll over us like the Priestly Blessing in shul.  Oh Daddy, I hope that wherever you are, you know that I am loving the same things you loved when you were with us.