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