It was a who’s who of Tel Aviv and New York Jewish culture vultures, politicians, philanthropists and, yes, music lovers from around the world. Thirteen years in the making, more than 77 years since its founding, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was inaugurating its new home at Heichal Hatarbut. Thanks to the city of Tel Aviv and the generosity of Charles Bronfman, after whom the new hall has been named, we can now hear the IPO for what it is — a world-class symphony orchestra in a world-class hall, an experience I am told one used to be able to have only outside Israel, where the acoustics were actually befitting the quality of the performers.
I was lucky enough to be there. In Israel for the wedding of the daughter of a dear friend, I learned from a friend on the board of the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra that there was a gala performance in the new hall the night before the wedding. Strangely enough, I had never heard the IPO perform. I am always in Israel in the summer, when the orchestra is not in Israel; even the rare times I have been in the country when the orchestra is playing, it’s next to impossible to get tickets.
And when the IPO comes to New York, I have never managed to get there, despite having grown up in a music-obsessed family where my father’s idea of nirvana was listening to practically any music well played at any time of the day or night. One of the most poignant and painful memories I carry of the last months of my father’s life was watching him in bed, in and out of consciousness, conducting the orchestra of his mind playing the music of his dreams.
But back to the IPO. I invited my oldest friend to join me at the gala. Dahlia lives in Tel Aviv and is a pianist, and I thought she’d enjoy it. We got a little farputst (though in Israel, people come to galas both in long dresses and in jeans) and made our way to the beautiful open plaza in front of the hall, where children were playing and people were strolling. In front of the hall, families were picketing the government, presumably for spending too much money on concert halls and not enough on education. It was a little disorienting to feel so excited to be entering this great hall while considering the possibility that these families might have a point.
We took our seats. The mayor of Tel Aviv spoke the requisite words of gratitude. And then — and then the great maestro, Zubin Mehta, possibly the most beloved Indian in all of Israel, came out onstage. The audience roared. And suddenly we were all on our feet and the orchestra began playing “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem.
Having never been to one of these galas, I wasn’t sure what to do — sing or listen? But suddenly Mehta turned around and began conducting us, the audience, and the room filled with the sound of all of us singing together, and my eyes filled with tears. Someone cynically told me the next day that this is Mehta’s shtick; I found it stirring beyond words.