Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra may be playing its last notes

After 69 years, IBA's 60% funding cut may signal a jarring finale.

Jlem Symphony Orchestra (photo credit: )
Jlem Symphony Orchestra
(photo credit: )
Budget cuts at the Israel Broadcasting Authority may result in the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra being disbanded. The JSO was founded and is heavily funded by the IBA. "We thought we were just getting past all the [financial trouble]," principal bassoonist Richard Paley told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday, "and then we received a letter from [IBA chairman] Moshe Gavish telling us that they were going to cut the budget by 60 percent." For a number of years, the IBA almost singlehandedly funded the JSO, providing NIS 11 million out of the orchestra's NIS 15m. budget. The remainder was provided by the Jerusalem Foundation, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Science, Culture and Sport Ministry. Four years ago the JSO was put into receivership due to mismanagement and was in danger of being liquidated. It was saved by Leon Botstein, who accepted the position of music director and formed the American Friends of the JSO to raise funds. Botstein worked for free because the salary he was offered wouldn't have even covered his traveling expenses, he said. As part of the JSO's recovery program, orchestra members accepted a voluntary 20% pay cut. The JSO is set to celebrate its 70th anniversary next year. While the IBA was still interested in the success of the orchestra, Gavish wrote on June 3, it was no longer in a position to continue its customary support because of a lack of funds. The IBA would still fund the JSO to the tune of NIS 5m. annually, he wrote, provided that matching funds were provided by the ministry and the municipality. But the Jerusalem Municipality recently cut its own culture budget, Paley said, and would have a hard time giving additional money to the JSO. He said massive cutbacks or the closure of the JSO would be devastating for the musicians, most of whom are Russian immigrants who already have a hard time making ends meet. The IBA's decision to drastically reduce funding was "an irresponsible step," JSO director-general Yossi Talgan said. "It's not only irresponsible, but criminal." Talgan questioned how a governmental authority could make such a large budget cut without prior warning. He said it was ironic that just when the economy was flourishing, the IBA announced a 60% cutback. He expressed concern that his musicians would not be paid next month. Talgan said the decision was "in contradiction to agreements reached between the JSO and the IBA," and contravened a decision made by the Knesset Ethics Committee three months ago. "It was agreed that if the IBA wants to make any changes in the budget of the orchestra, they have to again raise the matter with the Knesset committee," he said. "Only after receiving government approval could they make cuts." Talgan said he might take the matter to court. Botstein is currently in Budapest, but his spokeswoman, Roberta Fahn Schoffman, said he was shocked by the decision-making process. Paley said the JSO has been broadcast on 250 public broadcasting stations across the US and throughout Europe via the European Broadcast Union. He said many of its works were by Israeli composers. The broadcasts were a valuable hasbara tool, he added. Meanwhile, Labor MK Eitan Cabel, who was the minister responsible for the IBA before he resigned from the government, said on Tuesday that the situation was worse than anyone had realized. "People have been talking about it for years, but the extent of the crisis is worse than anyone had imagined," he told Israel Radio. Cabel said drastic cuts were unavoidable. The situation at the television channel was much more critical than at the radio station, he added. The IBA's foreign language broadcasts, including English television and radio news, are under threat. The IBA Management Committee is due to reconvene next Monday and has prepared an emergency plan.•