Back to the IPO, in the flesh

For now, at least, music-lovers have plenty to look forward to in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.

ILAN VOLKOV conducting the concert at Jerusalem’s ICC auditorium. (photo credit: GUY YECHIELI)
ILAN VOLKOV conducting the concert at Jerusalem’s ICC auditorium.
(photo credit: GUY YECHIELI)
When it comes to musical acts, of any ilk, they don’t come much bigger than the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO). However, even the illustrious national classical ensemble, with all its global renown, has been incapacitated these past three-plus months, along with all the world’s other pandemic-strapped cultural organizations.
But the IPO is back, at long last. Earlier this week, internationally celebrated conductor Ilan Volkov presided over a concert at Jerusalem’s ICC auditorium, performing a varied program of works that took in Mahler’s arrangement of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for Strings, and Consolation by 20th century Icelandic composer Jon Leifs.
Volkov is of the opinion that musicians and audiences alike would do well to keep their options open.
“I think it is wonderful to play well-known works, and also great to plat less-known works,” he proffers. “Yaron Gottfried is conducting a work by [late 19th century-early 20th century English composer Frederick] Delius, which many people do not know.”
The composition in question is On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, a tone poem written in 1912 and first unveiled in Leipzig the following year.
Volkov and Gottfried will occupy the conductors’ podiums across two concurrent series, taking in 33 concerts scheduled for the ICC, the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv, and the Haifa Auditorium. Gottfried’s side of the wide-ranging repertoire also features Appalachian Spring by 20th-century American composer Aaron Copland, and Schumann’s Spring Symphony. Each program will be performed several times through July 9, with concerts frequently taking place twice a day.
Volkov says that he was understandably eager to pick up the baton again.
“People want to get back to this [live concerts]. You can’t carry on living in a vacuum. You can’t stop life entirely. It was wonderful to conduct again in Jerusalem.”
Not that the voluminous ICC was packed out on Sunday. “There were only around 200 people. But tickets only went on sale on Thursday, so that was to be expected. And, of course, you aren’t allowed to fill all the seats. I hope that, in future concerts, there will be 500 people in the audience.”
Still, it was a live actual concert.
“The last time I conducted a concert was on March 1, in Dublin,” Volkov notes. “It was so exciting to get back to rehearsing, and hearing the power of an orchestra playing in the same room together. You can’t get that from Zoom. The communal experience is fundamental to human life. From what I hear people are hungry to come back to concert auditoria.”
Performing artists, as they begin to resume their onstage work, are now experiencing something new. Professionals in most disciplines do not take long furloughs, basically because they can’t afford to financially, and because it is generally not a good idea to fade from public view for too long. Volkov feels there are some benefits to be had from the enforced period of inactivity.
“At this time, I like the idea of musicians across the globe considering what to do now. How do we function in a terribly neoliberal world which does not really know how to react to a situation with such a crisis? That, for me, demonstrates the weakness, at least of the Western world.”
That also has implications for the arts when there is precious little in the way of state funding and support for cultural organizations and artists of any stripe.
“Other than, say, Germany and Norway, artists and culture have almost no support,” Volkov adds.
The conductor feels there are numerous avenues to be explored in a post-pandemic world that don’t necessarily lead to a dark place.
“We have to think globally, and about climate change. Is it right to think of orchestras flying all over the world? Should we look to source more work locally?”
That, Volkov, says, can help to support local composers with ensembles commissioning and performing their work. Venues also come into the post-corona equation.
“We have to think about playing outdoors, and amplification. You have scores that are written for the Internet, and sound fine on digital platforms, so maybe there should works written especially for the outside.”
It is a matter of adapting as needs must.
“We have to think positively. If you can’t play a work by Mahler [due to the requisite size of the orchestra and acoustic demands] then don’t. Play something else. We have to be creative.” That sounds just right for Volkov et al.
For now, at least, music-lovers have plenty to look forward to in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.
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