The power of music. A bridge between cultures
Last week, Kurt Masur conducted the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, playing what he is famous for: Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. Having visited the concert was an experience in many respects. The orchestra has a very special vibe, as does the audience, which comes dressed very casually - in jeans and sneakers.
But much more than this, it is impressive to see how the 82 years old German conductor received standing ovations from an Israeli audience in Jerusalem; certainly also for him, with his very own, at times controversial, at times moving life story. Kurt Masur played an important role in the peaceful demonstrations in East Germany, which eventually lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall – an event just celebrated several days ago. Having been part of history, the German guest conductor fits quite well into the moving past and present of the orchestra. In 1936, Toscanini conducted the first concert of the newly founded Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra. Having escaped from fascism in Italy, the Maestro led an orchestra which represented a new home for Jewish musicians who had to leave their European orchestras in this dark time of European history. “I am doing this for humanity,” said Toscanini, and set the tones for the young orchestra, whose path was and is deeply intertwined with the history of Israel. After the State of Israel was declared, the orchestra was renamed Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Leonard Bernstein, not so famous yet, conducted the orchestra in Beer Sheva, while Egyptian forces left the land. One of his most moving concerts with the orchestra reportedly was the playing of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony in the amphitheatre on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, shortly after the Israelis had captured Jerusalem during the Six Day War. During the war, also Zubin Mehta arrived in Israel to substitute for the conductor Erich Leinsdorf, who had fled the country. Mehta became the orchestra most intimate conductor. He led the orchestra’s first performance in Berlin in 1971 – after huge internal discussions, if playing in Berlin was appropriate or not. Having decided to go to Germany, however, they were received enthusiastically and proudly played the Israeli national anthem there. In 1977, in the “Good Fence” concert, Zubin Mehta conducted the orchestra at the Lebanese-Israeli border with audience on both sides of the fence. In the wake of the Oslo Accords, he led a concert for 500 young Israelis and Palestinians in the YMCA in Jerusalem playing Beethoven’s 7th symphony. For his peace initiatives, Zubin Mehta was awarded with the Lifetime Achievement Peace and Tolerance Award of the UN. He believes in the power of music to bridge cultures and conflicts. He shares this message with many musicians, most importantly Daniel Barenboim (Mehta was Barenboim’s best man at his wedding in 1967). Together with Edward Said, Barenboim initiated the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra of Jewish and Arab musicians. For Barenboim, music has a universal language and, contrary to words, no limited associations. This, maybe, is what Beethoven meant, when he said that “music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.”