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Life and thoughts from Israel

4/8/2003 5:48 PM

This is my first entry into the new section: Life and Thoughts. Well, I have a lot of both. I am in Israel conducting the Israel Philharmonic in four performances of Mahler's 3rd. Two have already taken place, today is the Sabbath and tomorrow we go to Jerusalem and then back to Tel Aviv for the final concert. I have been overwhelmed with the deep passion and dedication of this orchestra. They play their hearts out at every rehearsal. The concert last night was one of the high points of my musical life. I have never before found such an attitude in an orchestra. About half the orchestra has come to my pre-concert talks. They talk about the music all the time. They come up after the concert and discuss the tempo of the last movement!! My God, what is this? An orchestra of music lovers! How can that be? Well, it is clear how it can be: they care desperately about music - it is their life-line. I tried to get a ticket for tonight's performance of Un Ballo in Maschera - impossible, there isn't a single seat to be had!

This orchestra has 28,000 subscribers! Music matters. The audience gives a standing ovation after the Mahler. There were nearly 500 people at my pre-concert lecture - a format they have never tried.

They cannot stop saying thank you that I came. It's almost part of the greeting now. Such warmth, such love of the music and the players are so completely attuned to Mahler!
I feel I have come home.

The Mahler had so much character yesterday. The first clarinetist is preposterously imaginative; the double basses are like galloping animals in the forest - they don't just play that way they ARE that way. The piccolo plays so soft in that final passage in the last movement that it carries all our vulnerability with it. I could go on and on. The trombones play the funeral triplets in the first movement in that echt jewish way that I keep on talking about! The trumpet is a poet. The strings soar and dig and they play with such tendersness. They love rubato, they crave intensity, they love to be invited into the ideas of the music - they WANT descriptions and analogies. One of the horn players said after the pre-concert lecture, "Now I know how to play that passage in the first movement."

I don't think I would ever get tired of playing with these musicians.

Does it feel safe? Completely! There is one musician carrying a gas-mask, but otherwise they go about their lives in a normal way. The food is so unbelievably good - the fresh fish and the hummus and the aubergines! I've found this restaurant where they serve about 9 dishes as appetizers before they bring out a whole grilled fish. It is heaven.

The weather is balmy. The sea looks gorgeous out of my hotel window. Hard to believe that I left a snow storm in Toronto.

Later I'll tell the story of how I lost my passport and couldn't get on the plane to Israel, so the orchestra had to reaarange the whole schedule and cancel a rehearsal. We managed fine on 3 rehearsals.

I hope that in future my comments will be a little more orderly. For the time being, I am fascinated that a society that lives under such tremendous pressure and fear is so passionate about music and that they are not afraid to express their love of music and their desire to share it.

A young girl - still in high school- came up to me after the concert yesterday. She had been at some of the rehearsals and also at both concerts. "Most conductors", she said, are content to get the orchestra to play well and together, you seem to want to share every feeling and every story in the music and that makes the players play better together, because if they share a common idea or vision they will be able to perform it in a more unified manner". Well, I said, you have got to the very heart of the matter! That may be the secret. These people feel the value of life so completely, and their feelings are their mode of communication; heartbreak and sorrow are their daily experience and so they are open with every pore of their bodies to the profoundest expression in the music. Of course!

Do we sometimes in America and England, in the hurly burly of the professional run-around, forget that music isn't a job. It's a "way of being" that causes other people, who come in touch with it, to have fuller more expressed lives?

More thoughts later!

The young girl who spoke to me at the concert wrote down her thoughts (because I asked her to). Here is what she wrote. Her mother plays Double Bass in the orchestra - that's why she was at the reherasals. Also it is school holidays:

"Watching you conduct the Israel Philharmoinic at the rehearsals of the Mahler 3rd reminded me of something important, which I think that I knew, but had forgotten.

It is amazing how much an orchestra changes with different conductors working with it. Sometimes it even happens that a conductor interfers with the making of the music instead of helping it come alive.

To my mind, it is not necessary to teach an orchestra like the Israel Philharmonic how to play the compostition. With such brilliant musicians the most valuable thing a conductor can give to this orchestra is inspiration, or in other words a reason to live!

Giving them imaginative ideas behind which they can unite is similar to a leader of a country uniting his people under a principle or goal.

Therefore telling the members of the orchestra they should be together in rhythmn and colour is useless in a way, for it is like locking them up somewhere together and forcing them to get along. Whereas, once they have a mutual meaning or essence, they will stay together even if you open the door for them to leave.

Your work was according to this idea and has inspired me as well!


Shiri Amir.

Thank you Shiri. You, in turn, have reinspired me - and possibly countless others. Freedom comes not from having no rules - that leads to chaos, which is another form of tyranny (as we see in Iraq today). True freedom comes from clarity. But you have already said it so beautifully. I do not need to add anything else. All that remains is to conduct one more concert in Tel Aviv tonight and then I leave at 3.30am tomorrow to go back to Boston where I will rehearse the Boston Philharmonic tomorrow evening! I feel extremely privileged in my life. It will be hard to say farewell to Israel - the land where they care deeply about life and music!
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