Never missing a beat

The orchestral player is the unsung hero of the concert world.

ipo book 88 298 (photo credit: Courtesy photo)
ipo book 88 298
(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
Smiles, Pranks and Coughs at the Israel Philharmonic By Yaacov Mishori Graphisoft Systems 135 pages The orchestral player is the unsung hero of the concert world. Night after night he appears on stage dutifully following the gestures of a conductor, faithfully backing up star singers, young geniuses and international virtuosi. At the concert's finish, while conductor and soloist bask in the adulation of the crowd, somewhere in the background stands the musician - a wallflower, not a sunflower. Rarely is a peep heard from this silent brotherhood. No one takes notice of them except when they make a blooper. But rarer still is it when one of their number emerges from the darkness to tell his side of the story. Such is the new book by Yaacov Mishori: Smiles, Pranks and Coughs at the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. For 18 seasons, Mishori, 70, was the principal horn, spokesman and a member of the management of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. His book is a collection of amusing anecdotes that cover the orchestra's history since 1936. We meet performers such as Mitropoulos, Molinari, Bernstein, Mehta, Stern, Menuhin and others in unusual situations onstage and backstage, but always removed from the public eye. Mishori has a knack for making a story out of almost anything. His prose entertains. Printed large, amply illustrated with cartoons and photographs, the 135-page volume can be finished in a sitting or two. Clearly an insiders' book, I was especially engaged by episodes that involved personalities I knew. He tells of high-school frolics in the Fifties, trying to break into the old Ohel Shem Hall to hear the IPO along with his Huckleberry Finn-ish pals: composer Noam Sheriff, TV personality Ram Evron, broadcaster Gideon Hod and critic Hanoch Ron. We meet an overly enthusiastic "Lenny" Bernstein leaping off the podium into the cello section while conducting Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini Overture and never missing a beat. We follow the IPO on tour when a cymbal player falls asleep before his one crash of the evening. We share being stuck on a bus, late for a concert in Paris, caught behind a parked car on an alley, and gasp with the musicians when a horn player, Horst Solomon, gets out and lifts the car onto the sidewalk singlehandedly. Mishori's accounts are light, but much is unsaid. If we look behind the smiles and pranks, we see darkness and cruelty as well. We get an insight into the calculated ambition that drives some to the top. Even hostile critics would find it hard to best this revelation. To quote: "We were to play three concerts, two conducted by the 32-year-old Zubin Mehta, who was then Music Advisor of the orchestra and on the verge of a worldwide career, and the third concert was to be conducted by 70-year-old Joseph Kripps, indisputably one of the greatest conductors at the time…. "Mehta… feared that Kripps' success would cloud the success of his first concert, as well as his second concert, that would take place the day after Kripps. "Mehta used a nice, original and certainly legitimate trick. After his success he invited the orchestra members to a famous Heurigen inn in the small town of Grunzig, outside Vienna, on the Danube. Heurigen is a very tasty Viennese sparkling wine that begins taking its toll on the drinker minutes after the first taste. The players were soon gulping down the beverage, while Mehta passed from one table to another, encouraging them to have more…. "A rehearsal of Schubert's Ninth Symphony was scheduled for 10 a.m. [the next morning] with Maestro Kripps. At least 15 players did not show up, others were late and the rest were intoxicated. The rehearsal was postponed for two hours, and when the celebrated conductor raised his baton, the first movement sounded 'sleepy' and melancholic. 'What is going on here?' roared the maestro in German. When the players told him of the Heuringen inn, he responded: 'Das ist eine Sabotage!' (This is sabotage!) and left the stage." All's well that ends well, however. The IPO returned to Israel with rave reviews from all three concerts, but the sweet taste of Heurigen has remained in my mouth and mind ever since.