A pro-Palestinian protest failed to detract from the Israel Philharmonic’s appearance at the BBC Proms Festival tonight; what could have been a total disaster turned into a total victory.

Chants of “Free Palestine,” and “End the Occupation” during Anton Webern’s “Passacaglia” passed for most of the audience as a clever musical addition, and didn’t realize that anything was amiss. Only when Gil Shaham joined the orchestra for Bruch’s Violin Concerto did the vocal protest actually hold up the beginning of the piece. The Albert Hall which was full to capacity became the scene of a struggle between ushers and protesters who displayed flags and signs before being ejected.

When the hall was finally quiet, Gil Shaham played a heart-felt Bruch which brought cheers from the enthusiastic audience. He continued to play the prelude from Bach’s E Major Partita as an encore. Protesters shouting “Free Azza” disrupted the second half, but an unperturbed Zubin Mehta waited them out patiently and the audience was soon chanting “Out…Out…Out…” to the protesters. When they were cleared out, the concert proceeded with an all-Spanish second half and again “Capriccio Espagnol” was received by a cheering, friendly audience. It was certainly a Proms Concert that will not be forgotten!

There were hints of what protesters were planning for the concert at a Pre-Proms event for the audience. Three IPO members, Yigal Meltzer, Iris Regev and Peter Marck were interviewed about their experiences in the orchestra and introduced the repertoire of the concert. Before the conclusion, an attempt was made to read a protest letter, disguised as a question about the program, calling for a boycott of the IPO; but the protester was shouted down by the audience.

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