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The last concert of the 2009 South America Tour took place at the Arena de Santiago with an audience of 12,000.

Have you ever heard 12,000 people on their feet and cheering?  That’s enough people to fill the Hechal Hatarbut five times!  Already with the singing of the Chilean Anthem the crowd was warming up, but by the time we were playing our encores, Zubin had them on their feet shouting for more.

Standing ovation of 12,000     

Trumpet soloist YigaelIt was a festive program of Beethoven Seventh Symphony, Fledermaus Overture, Haydn Trumpet Concerto (IPO soloist Yigael Meltzer), “Gracias a la Vida” by Chile’s own Violeta Parra and other hits by the Strauss Family; “Emporer Waltz”, “No Brakes Polka” and “Thunder and Lightening.”    The IPO’s program opened Chile’s celebrations of 200 years of independence.  It was an incredibly rewarding way to finish the tour. 

rappeling from the ceiling at the ArenaThe “Arena” is so large and preparations so meticulous, that a youth orchestra was brought-in the day before to rehearse and try-out our sound system, a full hour break between the rehearsal and concert was needed to facilitate the seating of the audience (more sandwiches for the IPO) and the light crew focused its “spots” by rappelling down ropes from the ceiling. 

At the acoustic rehearsal before the concert Zubin and the IPO management thanked impresario Roberto Ring and his staff who managed the tour, the guest musicians who joined the IPO for the 4 weeks and the many orchestra members who took on additional tasks, like suitcase crew and the travel committee.  

It’s hard to believe that the month of touring is coming to a close.  In its 18 concerts in 7 cities, the IPO reached an audience of between 50 and 60 thousand people.  South America, with its developing economies and societies was a fascinating lesson in the hopes and the accomplishments of people and nations. Many IPO members have seen that process over the years and remember military dictatorships, depressing poverty and hyper-inflation, warnings not to mention civil rights, and crime on the streets.  South America of 2009 hints of new things; people enjoying a better life with real hope for the future.

The IPO left Argentina and flew over the snow covered Andes to Chile.  All went smoothly and most of the orchestra members were already seated in the bus for the hotel in Santiago, but we just waited. Half an hour, 45 minutes, and we were still missing 12 players!  Two apples, one banana, a tangerine and a hand carved pencil were among the items discovered in the x-ray search and our colleagues had been detained at customs for one of the most serious Chilean crimes: bringing fruit into the country!  They were to be tried on the spot.

For their crimes there is a compulsory fine of $300 and an additional fine for every kilo of fruit.  To the rescue came Enrique Maltz, Spanish speaking IPO cellist and now, amateur lawyer.  Enrique pleaded for compassion, accused the Chilean head of customs of being “insensitive” to well-intending musicians who are already 3 weeks away from home and whose only languages are Hebrew and Russian. He claimed that they had no way of understanding the warnings in Spanish and English on the airplane. 

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cordova mallA huge crowd of Argentinean music lovers came to Cordova’s Ofeo Superdomo to hear the IPO with Zubin Mehta.

Five minutes after the scheduled start of the concert, the line to enter the basketball stadium with 7,000 seats was backed-up out the door, over a pedestrian bridge and snaked twice around the parking lot of a nearby shopping mall.

An audience of 7,000 is the equivalent of three concerts at Hechal HaTarbut in Tel Aviv! Wednesday is a travel day with the orchestra flying over the Andes to Santiago de Chile. The instruments, on the other hand go 800 km. by truck back to Buenos Aires in order to catch a plane big enough to transport them.

cordova warm up

club Espagnol interior RosarioRosario, Argentina’s third largest city has a new citizen.  Last night, in the presence of governor of the State of Santa Fe, Hermes Binner, Mayor Lifshitz granted Maestro Zubin Mehta honorary citizenship!  How is it that the IPO has never visited Rosario?  There’s obviously an audience: over 3,000 people attended last night’s concert. 

It was held in the Centro de Eventos Metropolitano, the buildings of the central rail yard built by the British 100 years ago and converted into a mall and cultural center. 

The 4 hour bus trip to Rosario was across flat agricultural land where there were more horses than people.  Wheat, soy and beef are sent down the Parana River, 300 km. to the sea.  The downtown is a fantastic architectural mix of turn of the century wealth and all the influences that extreme economic and political fluctuations have since brought. 

Every turn of a corner holds a surprise, whether an incredible building complete with turrets, stone lions and angels which would look more at home in Barcelona, a European coffee house filled with well dressed “Spaniards”, or a crazy Argentinean bus driver who has the right of way.  (On the way to the airport, one of the drivers misjudged the height of a bridge and smashed some windows on orchestra members.)  The population is entirely European immigrants.  Except for the pick-up trucks and roaming dogs in the early morning, one could easily imagine oneself in Madrid.
Rosario press 01

Rosario  press

A crowd of 6,000 cheered the IPO and Zubin Mehta at the Luna Park Auditorium in downtown Buenos Aires last night.  

Zubin absolutely electrified the audience with three encore Polkas by Johann Strauss: “Tritsch-Tratsch”, “Light-foot,” and “Thunder and Lightening”. It was an incredible end to the concert which included Beethoven’s “Pastorale Symphony”, “Overture to Fledermaus,” “Emperor Waltz,” Piazzola’s “Adios Nonino” and Haydn’s trumpet concerto played by Yigael Meltzer.

6000 people at the Luna Park 

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The IPO whizzed across the Plata River at 80 km/hr. by high speed ferry from Buenos Aires to Montevideo this morning.  On their way to Saturday night’s concert, players amused themselves with on-board internet and the duty-free store or caught up on sleep.

crossing Rio de la Plata 

Montevideo looks like Hemingway’s Havana re-constructed with local fishermen lounging on the seaside promenade leading from the port and a mix of run-down colonial, arte-nouveau and socialist regime buildings.  The city sits on an incredible site surrounded by water; the sea on one side and the port on the other.  Uruguay has known incredibly prosperous periods, and tour books say it’s enjoying a hi-tech boom, but many former “palaces” of the wealthy are boarded up or crumbling in the sea-air. Warehouses stand empty in the port. The traffic, mostly middle aged wrecks and smoking buses, is very thin.

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before the feastAsk a musician who has just returned from a 3-1/2 week tour how it was, and he will generally give a detailed report on what and where he ate.  Acoustics? Audience? Site seeing? Well, these are minor points compared to the satisfaction a really good meal can give when you’re away from home.  

bife  de chorizoBut, where does one eat in Buenos Aires?  Is there such a thing as a bad steak?  We took advice that filtered down at the breakfast table and went to the place “where the Russians eat”.  When we arrived there were no less than 4 tables with orchestra members.  Israel Philharmonic musicians were hard at work in duos, trios and quartets from the repertoire of “Bife de Chorizo” (sirloin), “Befe de Lomo” (tenderloin) and “Bife de Ojo”( Rib eye) (see photos)! satisfied customers 

Saturday is once again a travel day with a sail across the Rio de la Plat (River of Silver) which separates Buenos Aires from Montevideo.  It’s no small river and sailing time is a full 3 hours.

adios_nonino

It’s hard to conceive of an encore to follow Mahler’s epic Ninth Symphony.  The symphony stands alone with no overture or concerto preceding it. Afterwards, the audience is left in deep silence until the first brave person dares to applaud. 

Until now, there was no appropriate encore to this 100 minute symphony, but last night, at the Teatro Grand Rex in Buenos Aires, Zubin Mehta spoke with the audience about another farewell, the farewell of a son to his father, and then performed Astor Piazzola’s “Adios Nonino” with the Israel Philharmonic strings.  

Piazzola wrote the piece in 1959 upon the death of his father Don Vicente “Nonino” Piazzola.  It was later arranged by his colleague, principal cellist of the Teatro Colon, Jose Bragato.  Since then, Bragato has dedicated his time to collecting and cataloguing Piazzola’s music. Yesterday, with Bragato, well over 90, in the hall, Zubin rehearsed the piece and announced his intention to perform it at the evening concert.

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Drizzle on Florida“…cambio, cambio,” “tango show,” “dollars…exchange…” the Argentinean “hustle” at every step up Florida Street. This is Buenos Aires and it’s either jostle through the crowds of pedestrians on “Florida” or risk the broken sidewalks and the blind bus drivers who back you up from the curb in a cloud of diesel smoke.  Drizzling and cold, Buenos Aires has welcomed the Israel Philharmonic like a noisy tango.

Last night, Wednesday, the IPO opened its series of 4 concerts in Argentina and Uraguay at the Teatro Grand Rex.  The famous Teatro Colon is under renovations and the “Rex,” an auditorium just a few steps down from “Obelisk,” was full with more than 3,000 cheering music lovers.   The program of Strauss and Beethoven was followed by encores of Mozart and Johann Strauss (“Thunder and lightening Polka”).

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Swine fever strikes the IPO.

No, we’re all fine; there are no pandemics in the IPO, but we were seriously hurt by swine fever this evening, our last night in Brazil.  It’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere and the flu season is at its peak.  In order to prevent the spread of the flu virus health authorities of Parana, Brazil’s most southern state, closed schools and issued a warning against large congregations of people. 

The IPO found itself in the high risk category! Bottom line: it was extremely difficult to sell tickets to the IPO and the beautiful Teatro Positivo in Curitiba was only about half full of the bravest (and healthiest) concert goers. 

In the meantime, 2 mutations of Swine fever (Shapa’at hachazirim) have been discovered in the orchestra: “Shapa’at hachazanut” (Cantorial fever), first seen in Tel Aviv, and “Shapa’at hachazarot” (Rehearsal fever), a high temperature and sore throat brought on by too many rehearsals.  The IPO toured China at the height of the “Saars” outbreak and now fearlessly in South America with the “Swine.”

The only hard evidence of the dreaded “swine” was two security guards who stood behind the bass section coughing their way through the concert.  

Tuesday morning we left in the pouring rain for Buenos Aires after eight concerts in Brazil.  Members of the IPO who have been coming to South America over the years were unanimous in their admiration of the progress Brazil has made.  In every city we visited, we saw blocks of new apartment buildings, up-scale shops, shopping malls, the newest models of cars, and a general feeling of prosperity.  The threatening atmosphere in the streets has been replaced by the bustle of people trying to improve their standard of living.