Bridgebuilders: From Israel to Berlin - and back again

Guest performance by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and Israel tour of the Berliner Philharmoniker

Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
(Photo: Shai Skiff)

Israel visits Berlin: This season the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and Zubin Mehta come to Musikfest Berlin. The orchestra and conductor share a long and fruitful collaboration: It was love at first sight when Zubin Mehta first appeared at the conductor’s desk of the orchestra in 1961. In 1969, he became its artistic advisor, in 1977 the orchestra appointed Mehta chief conductor, and then music director for life in 1981. Now, the 83-year-old maestro is making his farewell tour with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, stopping off in Berlin. The programme includes Ödön Pártos’ Concertino for String Orchestra, Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham as the soloist.

An orchestra of immigrants

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1936 by violinist Bronisław Huberman, who was a valued artistic partner of the Berliner Philharmoniker before he emigrated. At that time, it consisted of 75 Jewish musicians who had emigrated to Palestine due to the political situation in Central and Eastern Europe. The orchestra’s first concert in Tel Aviv on 26 December 1936 was conducted by Arturo Toscanini, one of the most famous conductors of his time. In 1948, after Israel gained its independence, the orchestra changed its name to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Until 2010, the members of the orchestra were mostly immigrants. That has changed in the last years, and today, most of the musicians were born in Israel.

European concert in Tel Aviv

In the coming year, the Berliner Philharmoniker and its new chief conductor Kirill Petrenko will be travelling to Israel. For their traditional European concert in Tel Aviv on the first of May, the Philharmoniker will perform at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium, the principal venue of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. The Jerusalem-born Amihai Grosz, 1st principal violist of the Berliner Philharmoniker, is the soloist in Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei; the programme also includes Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony and his Rückert Lieder with Elisabeth Kulman as the soloist. Two more appearances follow in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with works by Gustav Mahler, including the composer’s Sixth Symphony.

The orchestra has only ever made two guest appearances in Israel, in 1990 and 1993. Both trips had not only a musical but also a political dimension and were marked by an increasing reconciliation between the two states. The highlight of the first trip was a joint concert with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Tel Aviv under the direction of Zubin Mehta. In 1993, the Berliner Philharmoniker returned with their then chief conductor Claudio Abbado on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The guest appearance this season also makes reference to two important historical events: the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, and the end of the Second World War.

Short festival Tel Aviv – Berlin

Before then, in March 2020, the Chamber Music Hall will host a short festival on two evenings with the theme Tel Aviv – Berlin, in which musicians from both hemispheres work together to create a multifaceted programme. Expected participants include the Israel Contemporary Players under the direction of Ilan Volkov, the Buttering Trio, and Yair Elazar Glotman. On the second evening, you can look forward to the trio of the Israeli jazz pianist Omer Klein and the Shalosh Trio. And finally Avi Avital: the Israeli mandolin superstar, together with Ksenija Sidorova (accordion) and Itamar Doari (percussion), travels completely in the sense of the title of his bestseller album “Between Worlds”.

Palestine Orchestra
(Photo: Israel Philharmonic Orchestra)
Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv
(Photo: Idan Shilon)
Kirill PetrenkoAmihai Grosz
(Photo: Sebastian Hänel)
Avi Avital
(Photo: Guy Hecht)