If love be the food of music...

The Herzliya Chamber Orchestra celebrates its 25th anniversary.

allegro vivace 88 298 (photo credit: )
allegro vivace 88 298
(photo credit: )
There are any number of reasons for coming to live in Israel. Some people settle here out of a firm commitment to Zionism, others are imbued with a fervent religious zeal. Some flee anti-Semitism in their native lands, while others arrive seeking adventure, new opportunities or just someplace to build a new life. Harvey Bordowitz, founder and conductor of the Herzliya Chamber Orchestra (HCO), came to Israel for love. A native and resident of Brooklyn for the first 29 years of his life, Bordowitz first came to Israel at age 16 on a guided tour. He fell passionately in love with the country and was determined to return. His chance came in 1971, when he was hired to chaperone a United Synagogue youth trip to Israel from New York. "During the Galilee stretch of the tour, I fell in love with the tour guide," Bordowitz explains with a grin. "Within an hour I was 'gone' - head over heels!" They were married a year later and have remained happily married ever since, with three sons, now adults. Bordowitz's capacity to love intensely has been the driving force behind everything he has accomplished since arriving in Israel - love for the Jewish people, the Jewish state and, perhaps most importantly, his consuming love for music that enabled him to establish, nurture and build a world-renowned orchestra in a suburban town north of Tel Aviv. "I had a master's degree in music from Brooklyn College, specializing in conducting, opera and musicology. Once I knew I would be making aliya - with the ink still wet on my diploma - I had this strange notion that maybe I could start a traveling opera company that would wander from kibbutz to moshav, from town to village, performing opera on a shoestring budget. But as it happened, after half a year of searching for work, I was hired by the city of Herzliya to be their music coordinator. And once I had settled in, I created an orchestra." That orchestra, started in 1977, was strictly amateur. "Every September, I'd cast my net from Rishon Lezion to Zichron Ya'acov and see what I'd caught in the way of amateur musicians. We played for four years and, to my delight, had an audience," he says. Encouraged by the public's response and eager to attempt greater artistic challenges, Bordowitz approached Herzliya's culture department head and said, "It's time to go professional." Bordowitz laughs as he recalls, "Had he been sane, he would have told me I was crazy. But he was a man of great vision and culture and just said, 'Okay, let's see how we can do it.' And that's how it began. The professional Herzliya Chamber Orchestra debuted in October 1981, and we're celebrating our 25th year now." The Herzliya Chamber Orchestra has been a significant cultural force within the relatively narrow confines of Herzliya and throughout Israel. Enjoying national radio and television exposure in addition to recording, the orchestra has performed in Israel and abroad. Most recently, the HCO performed at a festive concert in Turkey in the presence of the Turkish president and the prime minister. After performing for more than two decades at Herzliya's Yad Lebanim, the orchestra moved to its new home in the Herzliya Performing Arts Center three years ago. With 764 seats and what Bordowitz says are "some of the best acoustics in the country," the new hall provides a fine venue for the HCO's two concert series on Tuesday and Saturday nights. "We now have some 800 subscribers and fill the hall both nights. It's really thrilling to see how far we've come." Despite the demands of leading his own orchestra, Bordowitz has found time to serve as guest conductor for orchestras in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Germany, Russia, the Ukraine, England and Wales. And for the past 25 years he lent his services as a cantor for the High Holidays for the Shir Hadash congregation in New Orleans, a much-loved annual activity he had to suspend last year due to Hurricane Katrina. While he plans to return, Bordowitz is aware that many members of the congregation, whom he calls his "second family," have scattered all over the United States. As conductor and music director of the Herzliya Chamber Orchestra, Bordowitz tries to strike a balance between the works of Israeli composers - many of whose compositions he has premiered - and those of the icons of symphonic music. Of the latter, Bordowitz is partial to Mahler and Beethoven and is particularly drawn to Mozart, whose 250th birthday the orchestra is celebrating this year. "Mozart is like a god for me. I simply have no way - nor will anyone ever have a way - of explaining the phenomenon that was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. His childishness, his playfulness, the profundity of his thought, the depth of his empathy, the suffering, the redemption… How was all of this possible in one person? How was it possible, in mere musical notes, to tap the very heart of the human experience?" Bordowitz has also exposed his audiences to the works of such American composers as Scott Joplin (bringing ragtime onto the concert stage) and Aaron Copeland. In addition to the regular season concert series, the HCO has performed some 450 children's concerts and numerous free public concerts during the summer featuring a constellation of popular Israeli artists. Audiences for some of these performances have numbered 5,000. While the open summertime concerts draw audiences of all age groups, Bordowitz says that the majority of the HCO's concert subscribers are aged 40 and up. "These people have grown up with classical music," he says. "The music of your youth is the music that stays with you for life. Younger people have grown up with MTV. For the last 25 years or so, these people have gotten their music visually, in multimedia with 'clippy' editing that flashes as many as four images per second. In a two-and-a-half-minute song, you've got maybe 600 images bombarding you. People who grew up with this have a very hard time sitting through a 63-minute symphony by Beethoven or a 90-minute symphony by Mahler." Bordowitz admits to being concerned about the future of symphonic music. "In any given year, thousands of brilliant, professionally trained young musicians are pouring out of the academies and conservatories but have to look for an ever-diminishing number of jobs. Symphony orchestras are becoming fewer and fewer, but reports of the demise of symphonic music are premature. It's still hard for me to imagine anyone, at any age, being exposed to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and not being completely swept away by it. The music of Bach will live forever. If orchestras have what to offer, people will come." As if to prove Bordowitz's point, people are indeed coming to listen to the Herzliya Chamber Orchestra in record numbers as it performs two series of gala concerts in celebration of its 25th year.