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Israel was again in the Russian press; not as a champion of chess, but as
champions of music.

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra commemorated the 20th anniversary
of the resumption of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Russian
Federation with a festive concert in Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, Moscow.

The concert, conducted by Zubin Mehta with pianist Denis Matsuev, was
co-hosted by the Israeli Ambassador and a special envoy of Vladimir
Putin. Zubin Mehta was awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree from
the Russian Academy of the Arts at intermission.

The concert was attended by members of Moscow’s Jewish and Israeli communities, and representatives of the diplomatic corps. The program of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky was broadcast live on national television.


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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.

Sunday morning, after performing at Teatro Dom Pedro II in Ribriero Preto, the IPO drove 200 km. in the direction of San Paulo.  Brazil’s “green” power was apparent in the 3 hour trip across rolling hills.  Fields of sugar cane used for bio-fuel in Brazil’s cars, or refined to make Cachasa, Brazil’s vodka, stretched to the horizon.  The changing shades of green were sometimes broken by orange and avocado groves or grazing cattle.  It was an incredibly pastoral scene under warm, blue skies.

 Shelly and Micha on the bus

Sunday’s afternoon concert took place outdoors in Paulinia. Four years ago, the IPO appeared with Zubin Mehta in Campinas, the neighboring municipality, and enjoyed an incredible success with thousands attending. Once again, more than 12,000 people attended, some arriving hours before to catch a good seat. 

Waiting for Tico Tico

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Saturday was the Israel Philharmonic’s first visit of to one of the most prosperous areas of Brazil: Ribeirao Preto. 

This area of Brazil is the “California of South America” for its year-round warm climate, argicultural economy; in the 19th century coffee, citrus and sugar, and in the 21st century for its industry and high-tech.  During the 80’s and 90’s, the growing of sugar cane and its conversion to alcohol became central for the creation of bio-fuels for automobiles.  At the beginning of the 19th century, coffee drove the economy.  

The city boasted European-style cafes, caberets and opera houses, two of them!  The only survivor, Teatro Dom Pedro II, has been modernised and today is the home of the local symphony orchestra and the venue for Saturday’s IPO concert.  Pedro II was the second and last Emporer of Brazil.  He gradually emancipated the African slaves and permitted  the republican movement to take hold. 

Saturday afternoon, after two flights from Rio, the IPO checked into the JP Resort Hotel, complete with outdoor swimming pools and tennis courts.  We were met the reception by a brass ensemble.  There was just enough time to gather around the pool before a concert of Strauss and Beethoven in the evening.

greeted by brass ensembleIPO OpenQuartetto Piscina

Last night, the Israel Philharmonic shared its concert hall with the Broadway Musical “Hair Spray.”   The beautiful Teatro Municipale, our usual venue, is in renovations, the new arts center is still being built, and the only hall available, Teatro Oi Casa Grande, may be perfect for Broadway but it was terrible for Beethoven. 

Even with the IPO’s 90 musicians: the acoustics were un-bearably dry and balancing the orchestra was a problem. In addition to no room on the stage, there was no room back-stage to sit down, only one toilet for the men and one for the women. Zubin joined us lounging on the instrument trunks because he had no dressing room of his own!  Any space the bass boxes didn’t take up in the wings, the set from the musical “Hair Spray” did. In short, the “Teatro Oi Casa Grande” was not so “grande,” it was more “Oi-vey”.

Where we should have played

Where we should have played

the Oi Vey Theater

the Oi Vey Theater

 If you were on the side of the audience, the concert was great; two Beethoven Symphonies and the Overture from “The Marriage of Figaro”. 

 But, on the other hand, Rio is beautiful: the sea and the mountains; green and cool! 

The Israel Philharmonic began three consecutive evenings of concerts in San Paolo on Sunday night.  

San Paolo deserves a great concert hall, and since 1999, it has one; Sala Sao Paolo, the Julio Prestes Cultural Complex.  It’s on the level of the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Boston’s Symphony Hall and the Musikverein in Vienna. 

Not like any other train station

The 1926 railway station built in the style of Louis XVI was renovated by the State of San Paulo and is the home of the state symphony orchestra, a music high school and academy.  It was originally the train station and administrative center of coffee “barons” who wished to export beans directly and cheaply from the interior to the port of Santos.  In the 21st century, it has become the symbol of re-vitalizing the depressed center of the city.

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The First concert of the IPO’s South American tour took place Saturday night in Campinas.   After completing the program of three difficult Strauss tone poems, the applause didn’t stop, so the orchestra went on. Mehta called up the Overture to Mozart’s Magic Flute, “Tritsch-Tratsch Polka” and the “Thunder and Lightening Polka”.  Later in the week, the orchestra will return for an all-Beethoven concert and an outdoor concert, hoping to repeat the “outdoor” success of 4 years ago.

In the meantime, Sunday morning is occupied with traveling by bus to San Paolo and check-in at the Maksoud Plaza Hotel before tonight’s rehearsal and concert.  Can an orchestra become attached to a hotel?  This is the eighth visit of the IPO at the “Maksoud”; very familiar territory!  In 1980 one of the most unusual events in IPO history occurred: within 5 minutes of checking-in at the “Commodore” Hotel in San Paolo, the entire orchestra checked-out! It was just too dirty, dark and stale! The chaos of an entire orchestra scattered around a city of 15 million people 3 hours before concert time has become part of the IPO mythology; Avi Shoshani, 30 years later, still has nightmares about that day; it was his first tour as General Secretary!  A few players actually crawled into bed for a quick pre-concert nap at the Commodore only to wake up in an empty building completely abandoned by their colleagues!  Yes, everybody found their way to the evening concert, but all 105 members were on their own, spread out over this huge city.  To our rescue came the Lebanese owner of the newly built “Maksoud Plaza” who opened his doors to the Israel Philharmonic.  Then, it was an ultra modern hotel, the first with an “atrium” reaching up to the 20th floor, modern electronics and spotless rooms.

Home at the Maksoud Plaza from the 17th floor
Home at the Maksoud Plaza from the 17th floor


 Since then, some of the magic has worn off, but the IPO still considers it “home.”
The evening rehearsal  and concert open the series of three concerts at the Sala Sao Poalo.

Yesterday was the first day of work, with double rehearsals at the Theatro Municipal de Paulínia. Zubin covered the all-Strauss program; Til Eulenspiegel, Don Juan and Ein Heldenleben, then in the afternoon went on to rehearse Beethoven’s 6th Symphony and various encores that will be performed during the tour. The new, shining-white concert hall standing in fields of wild grass is in the neo-classic Greek style on the outside, but is quietly conservative on the inside. It serves the city of Campinas, more than a million people, the home of Brazil’s high-tech industries and an important transportation, industrial and university center.

In addition to Saturday night’s Strauss concert, the Orchestra will return from São Paulo to perform a second program later in the week. There will also be a festive outdoor concert, repeating the IPO’s incredible success of four years ago when thousands heard the Orchestra perform with Zubin under the stars.

Lunch between the rehearsals was served at the hall and in the evening. Orchestra members split into small groups for Sabbath dinner away from home.