The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in the time of Coronavirus

The history of the Israel Philharmonic is also the history of the State of Israel.

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (photo credit: ODED ANTMAN)
The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
(photo credit: ODED ANTMAN)

The history of the Israel Philharmonic is also the history of the State of Israel.

From its founding in 1936, with the very best musicians from all of the top orchestras in Europe, it symbolized the salvation of the Jewish people through the highest and purest form of art - through music itself. By founding the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, Bronislaw Huberman saved musicians and their families - over 1,000 people who would have otherwise been exterminated. 

As the greatest cultural ambassador of the State of Israel, the IPO was there to make history so many times. The orchestra's first concert in Germany after WWII was with Zubin Mehta; the applause was so overwhelming that we had to play Hatiqva for an encore. In Warsaw, we were returning triumphantly instead of as victims. We played in Buchenwald. In numerous places where Jews have suffered greatly we were there representing the country. We touched people and reminded the world that Israel is here to stay.  

The IPO has always stood steadfastly with the people of Israel - providing tens of thousands of subscribers with uplifting experiences by the very best artists that the world has to offer. Through every national crisis, we were there to raise the spirits of the country. Bernstein played with us in Be'er Sheva in 1948, he conducted the Resurrection Symphony in 1967 on Mount Scopus; Zubin Mehta was there with us during the Six Day War, virtually living in the basement of Binyanei Ha'uma in Jerusalem. The orchestra played with Mehta through the Yom Kippur War, the Lebanon War, during the Gulf War when we had to give three times as many concerts in a small hall in Jaffa because we were not allowed to perform in Tel Aviv. People flooded into the concert halls; they needed the orchestra, they needed music to sustain them.

Miriam Hartman-BeazleyMiriam Hartman-Beazley

But now this virus - it is a paradigm shift. We can't simply travel to a venue in an armored bus as Bernstein did, or move to a smaller hall in order to avoid the Scud missiles. This is a different kind of enemy which is preventing us from bringing our healing salve to a nation which needs us now more than ever. Our frustration is enormous. We have a new, fantastic, vibrant, young conductor, Lahav Shani, yet musicians are sitting at home, unable to perform, unable to give what we need to give to our public, and the orchestra is truly under threat. Normally our tickets sales provide over 50% of our budget. We should be performing for our audiences right now. We are prohibited from giving these concerts, and we cannot recuperate without help. We want to give the solace, comfort, culture, familiarity and reassurance that we know our concerts provide. We reach out and connect almost daily via social media and with recorded broadcasts. But we have no idea when we will be able to do this live. Just as the worldwide toll upon the culture of humanity has been great, in our own little corner of the world the toll upon the orchestra may be calamitous.

We appeal to you to help us remain Israel's musical vehicle for expressing joy, grief, shock, gratitude - all the power of emotion that can be created simultaneously by 110 committed souls making music together. While other major orchestras receive between 80-100% of their funding from their governments, we barely receive 10%. Without our subscribers and ticket sales, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to maintain our institutional integrity. We realize that many have sustained great hardship at this terrible time. But this is also a critical juncture in our own developing history and your support will enable us all to get through to the other side. We cannot thank you enough.

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The author is Principal Violist of the IPO