After 50 years, Netanya orchestra fights to survive lack of funds

After a 50-year history of full performance seasons throughout Israel, the NKO is confronted with the possibility of extinction.

SHMUEL ELBAZ (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A week after reports emerged that the Netanya Kibbutz Chamber Orchestra was in danger of being closed down due to Netanya’s inability to find money in their budget to renew the orchestra’s contract, the conductor and musicians are campaigning to save their beloved institution.
 After a 50-year history of full performance seasons throughout Israel in venues ranging from the largest and finest concert halls, such as Beit Gavriel on the Kinneret and the Recanati Auditorium in Tel Aviv’s Museum of Art, to being the only orchestra giving concerts in smaller halls in periphery communities such as Dorot and Ein Hashofet, the NKO is confronted with the possibility of extinction.
“It is a shame for the musicians of such a high-level ensemble, who have garnered kudos from the Ministry of Culture and Sports, the Israeli public, as well as the critics and audiences in countries in which they have toured, to be challenged by the possible demise of their orchestra,” says Shmuel Elbaz, the resident conductor of the NKO. “I look at the situation as a smallness in calculations of the municipality. While the city is building taller and taller prestigious apartment buildings, one has to ask whether potential buyers will wish to live in a city devoid of an orchestra, high-quality music programs in the schools provided by NKO members and important cultural events.”
Elbaz is considered one of the finest mandolin players in the world, as well as a noted conductor and educator.
“To see and work with musicians in the NKO, who sit on the edge of their chairs and whose eyes shine with excitement is a wonderful experience. It is a pity to see their work unravel,” he laments.
“Nevertheless, the musicians are doing the utmost to save the ensemble and themselves,” points out Elbaz. “They are staging demonstrations before the Ministry of Culture, the house of Netanya’s Mayor Miriam Feirberg and the home of Nir Meir, president of the Kibbutz Movement, which provides a portion of the NKO budget. They are reaching out to other orchestras and considering other cities as a possible home for the orchestra. The 34 young, talented and dedicated members of the NKO are spreading word through social media that they plan to stay together as a performing ensemble and will not give up. They are looking forward to finding a new sponsor for the 2021-22 season.”
ACCORDING TO Hila Dagan, CEO of the NKO, 10 years ago, the city of Netanya contracted NIS 1.5 million to support the orchestra and the kibbutz movement pledged NIS 700,000. By the year 2019, the amount was reduced to NIS 1.1 million by the city and NIS 525,000 by the Kibbutz Movement. At present, Netanya refuses to renew support and the Kibbutz Movement is still undecided.
Nevertheless, the verve and desire of the musicians have only increased. Their energy, talent, excitement and love of music inspired Christian Lindberg, artistic director of the NKO, to take a hiatus from his orchestra in Norway and assume the position of Artistic Director of the NKO.
Considered one of the finest brass players and solo trombonists in the world, he is known for his ability to electrify and inspire both audience and orchestra.
“My goal was to make the NKO internationally known, and we succeeded,” says Lindberg in a phone interview with The Jerusalem Post from his home in Sweden. Lindberg was instrumental in arranging tours to Europe and the Far East for the orchestra. They played to critical acclaim in Spain, and also in Sweden, where it was the first time in 50 years that an Israeli orchestra played in a Swedish concert hall.
Lindberg relates it was so difficult getting funding from parent organizations in Israel in order to travel, that he and the musicians personally added funds.
“This was another instance of a subsidy promised but not fulfilled. We were also promised a bigger budget by the mayor, but they were empty words. To our dismay, on the NKO’s 50th anniversary, we were sent a short, terse letter from the municipality saying they would no longer monetarily support our orchestra.”
 “These musicians are incredible,” says Lindberg. “For the amount of work they put into the orchestra, they should be recompensed many times over. Despite the fact the owners dismissed me and my efforts, my heart is still with these phenomenal musicians.”
The Netanya Municipality responded to queries by the Post saying they will not renew the NKO’s 10-year contract, but will invite and pay them on a one-time basis. The orchestra says they do not place hope in these words and are exploring other options to stay alive, bringing the “oxygen” of hope and beauty to the world at large.