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Beautiful Prague: synagogues, churches, the Charles Bridge, the Castle, goulash with dumplings washed down with a half liter of Czech lager; a tourist heaven…but we didn’t see any of it!

Our flight arrived  at 13:00, we waited an hour for suitcases before leaving the airport empty handed, crowded into the hotel, had a rushed meal in an Indian restaurant, an hour rest and left for rehearsal. Prague to be seen next time….but the concert was GREAT!

Broadcast live on national television, our concert was the final concert of the Dvorakova Music Festival held at the Rudolfinum, home of the Czech Philharmonic. It was a black-tie audience that greeted the orchestra in a concert of Beethoven, Mozart and Strauss.

At intermission Maestro Mehta was personally congratulated by the Grandson of Antonin Dvorak.

The Strauss received a standing ovation and the orchestra went on to perform an encore.

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Day ten of the tour; a watershed! Rule of thumb; if you can get through the first ten days, the rest is easy.

We fly to Bratislava; lunch, a walk around the old city, rehearsal and concert: the tour routine.

Micah Davis, bass trombone is whisked off to the hospital with chest pains minutes before the rehearsal. The trombone section shuffles parts around, we rehearse the changes, and the concert begins.

At intermission Micah returns with our doctor, Dror Berman. Although his color is something between green and grey, he warms up and goes on stage. Micah is tough. After all, we’re playing “Ein Heldenleben”; a Hero’s Life!

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The Israel Philharmonic completed its short tour of the Baltic Countries, Finland, Lithuania and Estonia with a concert in Tallinn. Time was short and immediately after landing, orchestra members spread out through the old city for site seeing and lunch.

We ate at a restaurant offering a medieval period menu; barley, wild boar, lamb, lentils, wild mushrooms and mead; beer was served in ceramic pots. The restaurant was lit by candle power only and the waiters were dressed in period costumes; of course we were addressed as “My Lord!”  and we felt like “Lords”.

The concert of Tchaikovsky and Strauss was a huge success and immediately afterward, the Israel Ambassador hosted a reception for members of the orchestra, Maestro and Mrs. Mehta and local musicians.

The IPO leaves the Baltic States impressed by their great potential, their warm friendship for Israel and our common bonds of cultural harmony. Being a guest in the Baltic States has been a new and wonderful experience for the orchestra.

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The IPO has musicians from Lithuania; Loca, Alex, Itzik, Mulah, Shlomo, Shimon, to mention a few! Yesterday it was an opportunity to visit their beautiful city of Vilna and enjoy the local culture.

The day also included a visit to the site where Vilna’s Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, Punar; and an evening visit with the Jewish community. Among the guests was the son of the Japanese ambassador who, during the war, saved 2000 Jewish families by providing exit visas.

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We flew out of foggy Finland. Yesterday’s sunny weather had disappeared. One hour later we were in Vilnius, Lithuania.

The evenings’ gala concert opening the opera season was to be attended by the President of the State and her ministers at the Opera House. Lithuanian Mezzo Soprano Violetta Urmana was the star of the evening and the orchestra needed an hour of rehearsal for the three arias.

The instruments had left the night before but had to go by ferry, cross to Estonia, than drive south to Vilnius. Even with police escort it was a close call! Anxious minutes ticked by as we waited at the hall for the truck to arrive. With an impatient Zubin fidgeted between the truck, the backstage and the podium, stagehands finally began delivering the instrument boxes; often from the truck to the stage at a dead run. With only 25 minutes to concert time, we started rehearsing.

The three arias, from Samson and Delilah, Il Trovatore and Don Carlos were a huge success; the mezzo enjoying her glory and Zubin at his best. No one would have guessed the stressful moments that had passed.

Our visit to Finland ended with a concert in the beautiful Tampere Concert hall. The program of Beethoven Egmont Overture, Mozart 40th Symphony and Heldenleben brought the Finnish audience to its feet for a standing ovation.

Maestro Mehta gave solo bows to the tubas, the trombones, the trumpets, principal horn James Cox, the wood winds and finally concert master Illya Konovalov.

Michal Bach, personnel manager was in the hall listening and caught a few photographs.

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With a 3:30 rehearsal (Heldenleben, Mozart 40, Egmont, Ben Haim) and a 7:00 concert, IPO players wasted no time in getting out to Nature. Hotel bicycles were reserved within minutes, players went swimming in the lake and it was a 2 km. stroll to the castle.

I was wandering in downtown Hammelinne when I met Sasha by the house where Jean Sibelius was born. We had a private tour, seeing Sibelius’ piano, family artifacts and original manuscripts of the Seventh Symphony, Finlandia and Waltz Triste.

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Touring is an endless procession of contrasts; yesterday we had 15 hours of waiting, customs, waiting, flying, waiting, suitcases, waiting, buses, check-in… exhaustion; today waking up at dawn in Finland with a lake by the hotel, a castle overlooking the lake and perfect running conditions (to be followed by sauna and breakfast …all before 8:00!).

Attached are photos from a 45 minute run…enjoy!

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The hospitality at the Baikal Festival and the warm reception for the orchestra was outstanding! Getting in and out of Russia, on the other hand, is still a complicated process full of bureaucratic twists and turns: every instrument must be photographed for customs; for each player there is a 2 page customs form (in Russian) including a declaration on his instrument’s value; arrival and departure cards are filed at the airport; passports are collected at the hotel and finally, players traveling with their instrument in-hand go through lengthy identification checks.

After repeatedly delaying the flight while loading the plane, we made it to the waiting room at Irkutsk Airport for our 7 hour flight to Finland.

This tour sets an IPO record for age spread of the group: the oldest orchestra member is percussionist Eitan Shapiro who will reach 67 and retire on the last day of the tour (his birthday); the youngest is one-year-old Marta Yehudin, Evgeny and Polina’s daughter (Genia plays clarinet and Polina plays violin). (The Maestro, like the orchestra, is one year before his 80th!)

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The Israel Philharmonic completed its visit to Irkutsk with a concert of Brahms piano concerto in B Flat and “Ein Heldenleben” by Richard Strauss.

Pianist Denis Matsuyev, local talent turned international star, was the soloist. Maestro Mehta and soloist Matsuyev could have opened a flwer shop with all the bouquets presented to them at the conclusion of the Brahms.

Siberia is enjoying the last days of summer and it was a glorious sunny day with blue skies. Tomorrow is a travel day; a seven hour flight to Finland, and preparations were underway all day to speedily pass through Russian customs and immigration with the orchestra’s valuable instruments.

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