Israel-America Two-for-One Night in N.Y.


By Masha Leon

Published January 31, 2003, issue of January 31, 2003.
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“In New York, two for one is a great deal,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the audience at the January 21 joint Israel Philharmonic and New York Philharmonic Orchestras’ gala benefit concert. “You got two conductors [Zubin Mehta and Lorin Maazel], two Mehtas [the conductor and his mother, Dehmi Mehta], two orchestras and two mayors,” Bloomberg said, referring to his Tel Aviv-Jaffa counterpart Ron Huldai.

“It’s the first time in 20 years that both perform together… a symbol of our love for each other, our cities, our countries and our peoples,” Bloomberg said. The 185 musicians stood as they performed their thrilling renditions of “Hatikvah” and the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

Huldai shared his memories of winning a ticket to see the IPO as a young kibbutznik. “I took three buses, sat in the back and heard Isaac Stern perform,” he said, adding with a chuckle, “Since then I made some progress and now sit a few seats forward.”

“Both New York and Tel Aviv-Jaffa stand for diversity and tolerance,” Huldai said on a more somber note. “We have always valued music and not the sounds of war…. We have one objective: to keep playing, even with gas masks on…. And we hope to see you soon in our cities, in our country, at our Mann Auditorium.”

Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony — conducted by Mehta — and Mahler’s First Symphony — conducted by Maazel — were crowd-pleasers. Though Italian predominates when describing movements of musical works, I was amused by the German (so Yiddish when articulated!) in the program’s notations — “langsam schleppen… ohne zu schleppen” for Mahler’s opus. Describing the third movement, program annotator James Keller writes, “a klezmer band wanders within earshot.” Keller, however, did not note that what sounded like the opening two bars of “Oyfn Pripetchok” can also be heard.

Arriving at the Tavern on the Green’s huge white tent for the post-concert dinner, I did a double-take at the sight of rifle-toting police sharp-shooters. The reason was obvious: In addition to the high-profile guests — including benefactor Ronald Lauder and his wife, Jo Carole; Sy Sims and his wife, Lynn Syms, who is president of the American Friends of IPO, and Huldai, the roster boasted a contingent of Israeli diplomats: Dore Gold, Daniel Ayalon and, Danny Gillerman.

* * *

As her husband, Sidney Gluck, looked on adoringly, zippy 91-year-old Bel Kaufman, granddaughter of Sholom Aleichem, relished being the honoree at the January 13 benefit for the Bachanalia Chamber Orchestra at the Penn Club. Born in Berlin, Kaufman spent her childhood in Odessa and Moscow and came to America at age 12. Once here, she said, “I learned English by osmosis,” eventually becoming an New York City high school English teacher and the author of “Up the Down Staircase.” By removing the last two letters from her first name, Belle became Bel; she says that this allowed her to become the first woman to have her byline published in Esquire magazine.

The Russian-born Nina Beilina, the orchestra’s artistic director and founder — “a violinist of formidable power,” according to Harold Schonberg — immigrated to the United States in 1977. In 1983 she was awarded Italy’s Medaglia D’Oro “Musician of the Year” award. With her violin positioned under her chin, the petite Beilina is transformed into a virtuoso powerhouse and, joined by violinists Emil Chudovsky (her son), Peter Krysa, Serge Rizov and cellist Tatyana Margulis, the ensemble performed a Bach partita, Scott Joplin’s rag classic “The Entertainer,” and Mozart’s “Toy Symphony for Strings and Toys.”

“We did not speak Yiddish at home,” she told me. “My parents, who were from the Ukraine, wanted me to be assimilated…. I still feel a Russian Jew.” The Bachanalia will celebrate its 15th anniversary with a June 18 concert at Merkin Hall.

* * *

I relished the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players’ delicious productions of “Pirates of Penzance” and “The Mikado” at New York’s City Center. At the same time, the Gilbert & Sullivan Yiddish Light Opera Co., shepherded by Yiddish lyricist extraordinaire Al Grand, concluded its Florida tour with a January 20 performance of “The Yiddish Mikado” at the University of Miami. A sampling of Miriam Walowit’s delightful Yiddish lyrics (written in the 1940s): The “Tit Willow Song” from the “The Mikado”: “On a tree by a river a little tom-tit sang “Willow, titwillow, titwillow.” In Yiddish: “Oyf a boym bay a vaser a feygele klein, zingt ‘Vey’z mir, oy vey’z mir, oy vey’z mir.” English or Yiddish, both are gems. The N.Y. Gilbert & Sullivan Players will be on the road with “Pirates” and “The Mikado” through May. In March, the Workmen’s Circle Chorale presents “Di Yam Gazlonim” (“The Pirates of Penzance”).

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