A dissonant tone

Maestro Frédéric Chaslin explains why he did not conduct the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra at the Israeli Opera after management refused to allow him to pay tribute to the victims of the Paris attack.

Maestro Frédéric Chaslin (photo credit: Courtesy)
Maestro Frédéric Chaslin
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It was supposed to be a short but emotional address followed by a special abbreviated version of “Hatikva,” to salute the victims of the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris.
Maestro Frédéric Chaslin, himself a French Jew and the musical director of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the permanent orchestra performing with the Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv, did not imagine for a moment that his proposal to open Saturday’s night concert would not be welcomed. But opera management did not see it that way, and refused to allow the slightest change to the program, arguing that such a step would “upset the public.”
Chaslin, in return, refused to direct the concert, and was replaced by his assistant.
You were to conduct the opera, but shortly before the concert started, you left and the orchestra was led by your assistant. What happened?
I was, like everybody here and in France, deeply shocked by the terrorist attacks in Paris. I thought that here in Israel, in Tel Aviv, I should do as conductors and opera directors in New York and London did – that is, to say a few words to honor the memory of the victims.
How did that play out?
I told opera management that I wanted to say a few words before the concert and then conduct the orchestra in playing “Hatikva.” To me, it seemed the most natural thing to do in such circumstances.
But management refused. I thought they would eventually say okay to saying a few words for the victims but not to play “Hatikva,” because it is before a concert... but no, they refused anything that would recall this tragedy.
Did you try to convince them, to explain your position?
Yes, of course, although I must say that to me, it sounds strange – as a Jew, in the country of the Jews, do I have to give an excuse for such a thing? Isn’t it natural or normal to expect that in Israel, the country that is the shelter for all the Jews in the world, one doesn’t have to explain such an act, that it should be obvious?
What were the management’s reasons?
That is the most unbelievable part. They told me – and I quote – “We should not let terror disrupt our usual lives.”
That is pure nonsense; our lives, the lives of the victims – all the victims, Jews and non-Jews alike – have been totally disrupted, that is exactly the purpose of terrorism. And we should not stop for a few seconds to make room for the memory of the victims? I really fail to understand them.
You know, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the manager stepped on the stage before the performance started and said a few words; in London, the musicians of the London Symphony Orchestra walked in the streets to honor the victims. In Israel, a conductor cannot say a few words in memory of the victims?
How did that affect you?
I told them in that case, I would not conduct the orchestra. I said that one of the ways to answer terrorism is to preserve the memory, all the memories, of all the victims. But they continued to refuse, to say that nothing should upset the audience and disrupt their lives. Everything is disrupted anyway after that terrorist attack – and I was not going to conduct the orchestra as if nothing had happened.
My assistant replaced me. I have no idea what the public or the subscribers think about that, but I could not continue as if nothing occurred.
Will you continue to conduct for the Israeli Opera?
I don’t know. For the moment, I am focusing on my orchestra – the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra – with which I am going on a tour in France in less than two weeks; that’s important to me. The Israeli Opera concerts are only a tiny part of my orchestra’s program anyway.