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The US tour celebrating the 75th anniversary of the IPO and Zubin Mehta’s 50 years association with the orchestra ended in Los Angeles at Disney Hall.  The tour was marked with sporatic demonstrations against Israel’s policies in the West Bank,  and occassionally, music critics mixed up politics with music.

In the US there is an atmosphere of naïve optimism concerning the recent turmoil in Egypt and Libya.  For some, performing “The Star Spangled Banner” and “HaTikva” before the concert appeared to be a political act.

Putting politics aside, the review of the LA concert was fantastic, and LA’s love for Zubin Mehta was apparent.  Zubin also received “star status” in a special ceremony at the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

“The Fifth (Symphony of Mahler) begins with a trumpet call, and Tuesday it was radically, and excitingly, klezmer-like. Mehta then grabbed the orchestra like a cowboy wrestling a herd and led a dramatic, pointed and brilliantly focused performance of the funereal first two movements, allowing just enough leeway to let the players take wonderful little unexpected turns.

The Scherzo was macabre as it should be, but not exaggerated. The Adagio was not perhaps the love song Mahler intended, but it was gritty and fervent.

The Finale was the high point. After a troubled first half, Mahler turns happy, and conductors have long struggled with what that’s supposed to mean. Mehta here allowed in many individual voices in the solos. It was, well, Haydnesque, in a playful way I’ve never heard before, and thrilling. And how fine everyone sounded, with special praise for the creamy horn solos.

This was Mahler showing that the world is not one way or another, but many ways at once. And this was a distinguished Mehta — about to turn 75 next month and immortalized on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in a ceremony before Tuesday’s concert — demonstrating that he has aged far better than many of us who once dismissed him as brash and slapdash could ever have imagined.” Mark Swed LA Times

Micha at Disney

Micha at Disney

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Just as The Israel Philharmonic and Vienna Philharmonic met up in Tokyo last November, the two orchestras once again met in San Francisco.  This time, the reviewers had a special opportunity to compare two great orchestras performing two great symphonies on the same day: Mahler’s Fifth and Sixth Symphonies!

Each orchestra claims a special connection to this symphonic music: Gustav Mahler was music director of the Vienna State Opera, and his Jewish roots are apparent in all of his works.

The following sentences are from a review in the San Francisco Chronicle:

“The imposing Viennese forces, under the leadership of conductor Semyon Bychkov, gave the most potent performance of their stay, marked by massive textures and fearlessly tragic rhetoric; and the Israelis, led by lifetime Music Director Zubin Mehta, played with enormous subtlety and tact, giving the most nuanced and elegant performance I can remember hearing from this orchestra in many years.

The Viennese took a clear position as gatekeepers of the tradition; the Israelis, by contrast, treated Mahler’s music with a wide swath of knowing irony – even in the first movement, a funeral march that would seem ill-suited to such an approach.  In the Scherzo, the orchestra caught both the lilting beauty of Mahler’s writing and the faint air of parody that suffuses the movement.

A superbly balanced account of Haydn’s Symphony No. 96, “The Miracle,” occupied the first half of the program.”     Joshua Kosman   San Francisco Chronicle