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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

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

 

view at breakfast

The view at breakfast was breathtaking: San Francisco was on all four sides of us from the 24th floor of the Hotel Mark Hopkins.  From the Golden Gate Bridge, to the Bay Bridge, the harbor was a deep blue on a sunny winter day.

Beautiful winter weather

Beautiful winter weather

After flying in from Seattle yesterday morning, the orchestra performed “The Miracle” by Haydn and Mahler’s Fifth Symphony.  Local Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, who will be performing Brahms’ Second Symphony next season in Tel Aviv with the IPO, came back stage at intermission to chat with Maestro Mehta and visit with musicians.

It’s hard for us Israeli’s to believe that it takes 6 hours to fly coast to coast in one country (no food on the airplane, no room for carry-on bags, an additional 3 hours of jet-lag and only two toilets).  But Thursday, after concerts in Carnegie Hall and the Newark Arts Center we flew to the West Coast.

Seattle, where one sees the sea from almost every corner, is known for its micro-breweries, coffee houses, seafood and Asian cooking; perfect for a Friday after a tough flight with no concert or rehearsal.  The mountains are only an hour away and for the skiers, the snow was irresistible.  There was also a special group excursion to the Boeing Aircraft factory.  (All cameras and cell phones were confiscated at the gate.)

Friday night dinner

Friday night dinner

cross country skiing

For those who think the US Tour is starting to look like a “Tiul Shnati,” (school field trip) we now have ahead of us four concerts in four days: Seattle, San Francisco and LA.

Azerbaijani Dance:

“Vivacious and appealing in its initial form, Mr. Dorman’s piece was transformed here into an exuberant display of vibrant hues and mottled quarter-tones, its propulsive odd-metered rhythms garnished with brilliant metallic percussion and crafty effects.”

Liszt Piano Concerto with Yefim Bronfman:

“Yefim Bronfman, the soloist, tempered his estimable power with delicacy and finesse.”

Mahler 5th Symphony:

“Ending the concert was a passionate and assured account of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. That these players could make Mahler’s borrowings from Jewish folk and liturgical traditions sound authentic and soulful was no surprise. Mr. Mehta too is a seasoned Mahlerian. ”

James Madison Cox, the principal horn player, was heroic throughout. From harrowing horrors conjured by the trombones to the heavenly luminosity of the Adagietto, Mahler’s every gesture registered to penetrating effect.”

Beethoven in snowy Central Park

Morning of the concert Carnegie - Click to see more...

The pressure is always on at Carnegie Hall, but last night’s concert was a great IPO event.  The concert opened with Dan Moshyev’s drum solo in Avner Dorman’s Azerbaijan Dance.  Yefim Bronfman joined the IPO for the Liszt Second Piano Concerto and then Zubin Mehta and the orchestra performed Mahler’s Fifth Symphony.

All three of the thousand seats of beautiful, historic Carnegie Hall were full.  The Israeli Ambassador, Michael Oren enjoyed the concert with his wife and immediately after the concert, the American Friends of the IPO held a gala dinner at the Plaza Hotel.

The IPO continued its 75th Anniversary Tour of the US with a concert in Florida’s West Palm Beach.  The headline of the review was “Mehta leads the Israel Philharmonic through a Haydn miracle” in reference to the performance of Haydn’s “Miracle” Symphony #96.  He went on to write in the Miami Herald, “Mehta … showed the orchestra’s flexibility and its players’ glorious ability to vary their sound from a whisper to substantial forte.”

About Mahler’s Fifth Sympohny, the review was no less enthusiastic, “The hushed strings and harp in the famous Adagietto were a thing to behold, as Mehta coaxed divine sounds from his players.”

The orchestra left sunny Florida for New York City where the trees of Central Park were still covered with snow from the last storm and the temperatures were -6.

The IPO began its 75th anniversary tour of the United States with Saturday night’s concert in Naples, Florida.  Zubin Mehta chose a program of Haydn Symphony 96, Liszt “Les Preludes” and Schubert “The Great”.  Zubin was re-called to the stage 6 times at the end of the Schubert, absolutely unprecedented in Naples!

The orchestra stayed in West Palm Beach on the opposite coast from Naples. Separating the 2 cities is a huge swamp: the “Everglades.”  We drove what the locals call “Alligator Alley”; a 150 km. stretch of highway with water and endless swamp on both sides.

Alligator Alley view

Our helpful drivers told us, “If you break-down here, you don’t get out of your car to fix it, you just sit tight!  There might be nothing left of you in the morning!” We certainly did sit tight and watched alligators float by and sun on the banks.