Israel Philharmonic Celebrates 80 Years of Harmony on U.S. Tour

How Bronislaw Huberman's Dream Became Reality

Albert and Friends: Bronislaw Huberman founded the Palestine Orchestra with the support of Albert Einstein, who helped arrange a fundraising dinner in New York.
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Albert and Friends: Bronislaw Huberman founded the Palestine Orchestra with the support of Albert Einstein, who helped arrange a fundraising dinner in New York.

By Peter Aronson

Published March 27, 2014, issue of April 04, 2014.
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“It is not a question of violin concertos nor even merely of the Jews. The issue is the retention of those things that our fathers achieved by blood and sacrifice, of the elementary preconditions of our European culture, the freedom of personality and its unconditional self-responsibility unhampered by fetters of caste or race,” Huberman wrote.

But it was not just the tragedy of Europe that motivated Huberman. He had to be convinced that Zionism was morally, socially and culturally correct. In January 1934, Huberman made his third working trip to Palestine, performing 12 sold-out concerts in 18 days. He played before wildly appreciative crowds and saw with his own eyes a people and country achieving his highest ideals of civilization.

“Palestine is developing so outrageously that centuries from now they will describe this time as if it were a new Biblical miracle,” he wrote from Tel Aviv, adding that events in Germany and Palestine had led to a paradigm shift in his thinking: “I cannot reject without further ado the possibility that here, instead of a renunciation of Europe, perhaps an expansion of European culture is taking place.”

By spring 1934, Huberman had decided to start a Jewish orchestra in Palestine. He wrote to the wealthy Sieff family in London seeking financing, and to prominent conductors in Europe and America seeking their participation.

Huberman met with eminent Jews in Palestine and laid out his plan to bring the best Jewish musicians from Europe to Palestine to establish a world-class orchestra. Huberman said he would perform and raise money in Europe and America, and once the funding was in place, conduct auditions in Europe, with German Jews given preference.

Soon after, Huberman embarked on a U.S. concert tour with 42 concerts in 60 days, affording him his first opportunity to raise money for the orchestra in the U.S. As the suffering of German Jews increased, Huberman’s tireless fundraising was propelled by his anger towards educated Germans who complied with the Nazis. He wrote an open letter to the Manchester Guardian [of England]: “Before the whole world, I accuse you, German intellectuals, you non-Nazis, as those truly guilty of all these Nazi crimes, all this lamentable breakdown of a great people.”

In 1936, Albert Einstein assisted Huberman with a fundraising dinner in New York. Toscanini announced he would perform the opening concert in Tel Aviv. Despite the poor world economy, Huberman raised tens of thousands of dollars. The final obstacle involved getting the musicians into Palestine: Because of an ongoing Arab-Jewish conflict, Jewish immigration to Palestine was decreasing. It was difficult to obtain entrance visas. But Huberman prevailed and the Palestine Orchestra was established.

Toscanini conducted the first concert, which took place in Tel Aviv for an audience of 3,000 on December 26, 1936. Seventy-eight years later, the Palestine Orchestra, now known as the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, remains true to Huberman’s ideals as a cultural ambassador for Israel.

As he was formulating his plan for the orchestra, Huberman wrote in 1934: “Can you imagine a pro-Jewish and pro-Zionist propaganda more effective than a concert tour of the Palestine Orchestra, undertaken in a couple of years throughout the civilized world and acclaimed both by Jews and by Gentiles as amongst the best in existence?”

Peter Aronson, a practicing attorney, worked as a reporter and senior editor for The National Law Journal and Court TV. He recently authored a film script “A Musical Life,” which chronicles Bronislaw Huberman’s struggle to establish the Palestine Orchestra.

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