The IPO’s 83rd season underway

Maestro Zubin Mehta prepares to hand over the music director’s baton to Lahav Shani

THE MAESTRO, Zubin Mehta (photo credit: ODED ANTMAN)
THE MAESTRO, Zubin Mehta
(photo credit: ODED ANTMAN)
‘This will be an exciting season for the IPO,” says Avi Shoshani, secretary general of the renowned Tel Aviv-based orchestra. “We have excellent series of programs led by some of the best conductors in the world and starred by wonderful soloists. As usual, Maestro Zubin Mehta opened the season last month with acclaimed performances and will retain the position as music director until 2020. At that time, Lahav Shani will take the reins and become music director of the IPO.”
“Zubin came to us like a gentleman last year,” explains Shoshani, “and said in an elegant way, “Listen, I have been music director of the IPO for 50 years. I think it is time for a change. This is the time to find a new music director who is a member of the younger generation.”
“Together we began our search and, after many reviews, we all decided upon Lahav Shani. He is an excellent and talented musician, who is in his early 30s, coincidentally, the same age as Zubin was when he took over the IPO.”
This season, Mehta appears with the IPO in three sets of concerts. The first was the gala opening concert, which featured the Mozart “Coronation Mass”, with soloists and the Munich Bach Choir. In January 2019, Mehta will conduct the IPO with pianist Khatia Buniatshvili; and in July with Guy Eshed, flutist, followed by seven IPO performances of the Brahms Requiem, with soloists and the Gary Bertini Israel Choir.
“Whether it is my first season as music director of the IPO or last,” says Mehta with a smile, “my commitment to the IPO has been for three sets of concerts a year, and I have upheld it without fail.”
For the past half century, Mehta has been beloved by audiences and the members of the Israel Philharmonic. This year, Avi Shoshani points out, the IPO is proud to celebrate the centennial of the birth of Leonard Bernstein (19181990), a conductor with whom the IPO shared a special relationship.
“This celebration will be a series of seven concerts, morning lectures, chamber music, video presentations and movies presenting Leonard Bernstein as we knew him” says Shoshani. “We have a treasure of photos and letters in the IPO archives that we will open for view. One of our goals is to present Leonard Bernstein in a different way, not only through an Israeli or Jewish connection, but as a composer such as Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter, who excelled on Broadway as well as in the concert hall.”
“Bernstein is quoted as saying, ‘You know, pianists do not think I am a real pianist; conductors do not think I am a real conductor; and composers do not think I am a real composer.’”
Shoshani points out IPO’s celebration of Bernstein through concerts, lectures and movies will be a confirmation of him as a unique and outstanding musician.
Ilan Volkov will conduct the IPO in the series of “Leonard Bernstein at 100”  between November 28 until December 5.  The program includes excerpts from the films The Gift of Music and The Love of the Three Orchestras in which Bernstein speaks about his three favorite orchestras: the New York Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Israel Philharmonic. These concerts will also feature Bernstein’s Symphony No. 3 “Kaddish”.
Bernstein wrote “Kaddish” in the early 1960s for a large orchestra, a full choir, a boys choir, a soprano soloist and a narrator. He used the Aramaic words from Judaism’s mourner’s prayer, as well as a spoken text which he personally wrote, to be recited by a narrator.
Bernstein was alarmed by the specter of nuclear war, and in the narrative of the symphony challenges God, with respectful fury, to deliver and uphold his promise to mankind.
In November 1963, Bernstein was putting the finishing touches on his “Kaddish” Symphony when US President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. In his grief, the composer dedicated the symphony to him. The debut performance of the Kaddish Symphony was on December 10, 1963 in Israel with the IPO, where it was critically received.
Shoshani remarks the performance was legendary with Jennie Tourel (mezzo soprano) as soloist and Hanna Rovina as narrator. He believes Bernstein’s symphony, written with strands of 12 tone writing juxtaposed with poignant tonality, and ending on a dissonant chord (perhaps signifying unfinished “business”), strengthens the connection between Israel and Bernstein. “This symphony was written for us,” he firmly states.
Shoshani is delighted, in addition to conductor Ilan Volkov, that the stage will be filled with the IPO’s soloists Chen Reiss, soprano, Itay Tiran, narrator, the Gary Bertini Israeli Choir, and the Joshua Tutnauer Ankor Choir of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.
When asked what is also new this season, Shoshani proudly mentions the recently built Zuker Hall within the IPO complex, which he calls a milestone in the orchestra’s history. Zuker Hall is the new home of the IPO Chamber series which features Israeli artists and ensembles, lectures and recitals, in addition to ensembles from abroad and the IPO ensembles.
The chamber series, previously hosted by the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, now has its own home, a 400-seat venue with an intimate atmosphere and outstanding acoustics. The hall was designed by world renowned acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota, who designed the acoustics and advised on the renovation of the Charles Bronfman Auditorium.
Also, under the heading of “new,” are this season’s  IPO debut of Szymon Nehring, the winner of the Rubinstein Piano Competition, pianist Inon Barnatan, Sascha Goetzel, conductor, and Alan Gilbert, former music director of the New York Philharmonic.
“Most of our guest conductors and soloists have been with us before,” says Shoshani. “We are very lucky to get Alan Gilbert from New York. Our music director designate, Lahav Shani, will conduct three concerts in May, at which he will also be the piano soloist, performing the Shostakovich Piano Concerto #2.”
In Shoshani’s words,“It definitely looks like an exciting season.”
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