Over a decade before the State of Israel  was established, the Palestine Symphony  Orchestra gave its inaugural concert in Tel  Aviv on 26 December, 1936. With the Orchestra’s  first note a new era opened for the Jewish people,  and marked the start of their impact on the international  music stage.

The Palestine Symphony Orchestra was founded  by the Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman  in 1936. Little known today, Huberman was a musical child prodigy, who became a world renowned  violinist. He first visited Palestine in  1929, and later he helped organize the American  Association of Friends of the Palestine Orchestra, with the famous scientist Albert Einstein as its chair. Einstein had been expelled from Germany  in 1933.

With the rise of Hitler, and sensing worse to  come, Huberman set about forming a world-class  orchestra in a still largely barren land, far from  the cultural centres of Vienna or Budapest. The  formation of the Orchestra at a time when many  Jewish musicians were being dismissed from  European orchestras carried with it enormous  consequences.

In all, seventy-five Jewish musicians left persecution  in Europe in the nineteen-thirties to come  to Palestine. But the Orchestra served not just to  employ 75 musicians. It brought to the Land almost  1,000 members of their families, delivering them  from the Holocaust, and saving future generations.  Because of this, Huberman has been called a ‘Jewish  Schindler.’

At its beginning the Orchestra was made up  mainly of refugees from Germany and a large  Polish contingent, rounded out by a smattering of  Russians, Hungarians, Romanians and native-born  sabras. When the Orchestra played its inaugural  concert in Tel Aviv, it was led by the famous Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, himself an exile from his native country in protest at the fascist government of Mussolini. There were about 100,000 eager  buyers for the 2,000 tickets available.

In attendance on opening night were the  ‘who’s who’ of both the British mandate in  Palestine and the founding fathers of Israel,  including the British High Commissioner, Sir Arthur Wauchope, and Chaim Weizmann, then  head of the Jewish Agency and later Israel’s first  President. The Palestine Symphony Orchestra  opened its concert with the British national  anthem before playing Hatikvah, the unofficial  national anthem of the Jewish state. The inaugural  performance included works by Rossini,  Schubert, Brahms and Mendelssohn. Initial concerts of the Orchestra featured the music of  Richard Wagner, however, since the Kristallnacht  pogroms in November 1938, the Orchestra has  maintained a ban on Wagner’s work, due to that  composer’s anti-Semitism and the association of  his music with Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Following the founding of the State of Israel  in 1948, the Orchestra was renamed the Israel  Philharmonic Orchestra. In the 1950s, an increasing  number of native-trained musicians joined the  Orchestra. Talented musicians from the Soviet  Union, who arrived in the nineteen-seventies and  eighties, now make up about half of the one hundred  member orchestra.

One of Israel’s significant cultural exports, the  Israel Philharmonic Orchestra has performed under  some of the world’s greatest conductors, including  Leonard Bernstein. The Orchestra has been led for  much of its history by Indian-born conductor Zubin  Mehta, who was made Music Director for Life in  1981. Today, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra has  a subscriber base numbering 26,000.

We have been blessed to see the return of the  Jews to their land as God promised (Jer 16:15). The  regathering of Israel is a work in progress that will  be brought to its fullness with the return of Christ  (Ezek 37:21–23). God has used a variety of peopleand methods to draw the Jews back to the Land.  The rescue of Jews from Europe by the formation of  the Palestine Symphony Orchestra is but one story  of many and reveals the faithfulness of Yahweh to  His promises.

References and sources:

‘Celebrating the story of Israel’s Philharmonic Orchestra’, Israel  Line, 27 December, 2012 [email list]  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel_Philharmonic_Orchestra  http://www.ipo.co.il/eng/About/History/.aspx  ‘Israeli Philharmonic’s storied history’, JewishJournal.com, 24  October, 2012 http://www.jewishjournal.com/culture/  article/israeli_philharmonics_storied_history