Jerusalem Symphony to play on next season after judge grants reprieve

Leon Botstein, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra's principal conductor and musical director, breathed a huge sigh of relief this week after a decision by Judge Ezra Kama of the Jerusalem District Court ensured the JSO will open next season. The 69-year-old orchestra had been threatened with permanent closure. The JSO, which is primarily funded by the Israel Broadcasting Authority, was informed some weeks ago that the IBA would be making drastic cuts in its budget: The IBA would provide NIS 5 million per year instead of NIS 11m. that was transferred in 2006. As a result, it seemed that the musicians would not receive their July salaries. But musicians have to eat, and Botstein was seriously concerned when he heard that the IBA's financial woes would affect the musicians, especially since they had donated part of their salaries to offset the JSO's debts. He had also established the American Friends of the JSO to help the orchestra get out of receivership. Because Botstein is who he is on the American scene, and because he has enhanced the prestige of the JSO and made more Americans aware of it by having its concerts broadcast on more than 200 public radio stations in the US, the story of the orchestra's possible demise received prominent coverage in The New York Times. American Friends of the JSO was horrified and notables and philanthropists such as Martin Peretz, Michael Steinhardt and former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer signed a petition addressed to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert calling for his intervention. Based on the court's ruling, it is obvious that Kama was equally appalled at the possibility that the JSO might cease to exist. He ordered the IBA to pay NIS 750,000 per month to fund salaries for July, August and September. He also instructed the orchestra together with the Broadcasting Authority to come up with a recovery plan that would enable it to continue operating. The first paragraph in Kama's decision reads: "The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra is a multi-faceted cultural body that proudly carries the name 'Jerusalem' and has been a source of honor for the city for decades." "The existence and operation of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, as a cultural entity worthy of special mention, is in the national interest of every person or organization with the power and the ability, and obviously the means, to fund it," he wrote later on in the decision. Botstein said he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support once it became known that the future of the orchestra was in doubt. One of the gratifying expressions of solidarity came from master cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who offered to play with the orchestra at its 70th anniversary concert. Isaac Herzog, who is the newly appointed minister responsible for the Broadcasting Authority, has now become involved and the JSO is hopeful that he will come to the problem with a fresh approach.