The Israel Philharmonic under the direction of Zubin Mehta had the honor of opening the prestigious Salzburg Festival. The theme of the Festival is “Overture Spirituelle” and Judaism was selected to be the first religion to be represented.

Without a doubt, Noam Sheriff’s “Mechaye HaMetim” (Revival of the Dead) was a sensational start to the visit; it was met by a standing ovation of well over 15 minutes! The piece, which is a brilliantly conceived collage of Jewish and Israeli music, tells the story of the Jewish culture in Europe. It was commissioned 30 years ago for the opening of the Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam. “Mechaye HaMetim” is overflowing with traditional Jewish music, recognizable quotations and prayers. The story of the holocaust is central to the piece; the singing of Kaddish brought tears to many of the listeners. The Collegiate Choir, Baritone Thomas Hampson and cantor Carl Heiger participated in the performance. It was quite a difference from the reception the IPO received at last year’s “Proms” when anti-Israeli protester heckled during the concert. The concert received front page coverage by the New York Times with photos of the orchestra, Mehta and Thomas Hampson.

The IPO brought three programs shaped by Maestro Mehta and the Festival Director Alexander Pereira; each program contained Jewish and Israeli content: Schoenberg’s “Kol Nidre”, Mahler’s “Kindertotenlieder”, Noam Sheriff’s “Mechaye HaMetim” (Revival of the Dead), Ernest Bloch’s “Avodat HaKodesh” (Sacred Service). Additional pieces were Beethoven “Emporer” Concerto with soloist Rudolf Buchbinder, and an all Brucker program of “Te Deum” and Symphony #7.

Baritone Thomas Hampson, who appeared in Israel in July, played leading roles in the Sheriff, Schoenberg and the Mahler, but his most impressive role was singing the Hebrew texts of “Sacred Service”. (See the IPO site for 2 exclusive
interviews with Hampson.)

Only 200 meters from the orchestra hotel, in the gardens of the Mirabelle Palace, the City of Salzburg erected a memorial to 90 Righteous Austrians who assisted in saving Jews during the Holocaust.

The idea of “Overture Spirituelle” will continue at next year’s Salzburg Festival with the emphasis on Buddhism.

 

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