Zubin Mehta and Itzhak Perlman received standing ovations at a gala that started a week of festivities for Tel Aviv’s $38 million concert hall.
Mehta conducted Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Perlman as soloist at the state-of-the-art acoustic hall in the 1950s building that the Israel Philharmonic calls home.
“This hall has been the center of all musical, cultural activity in Israel since its inception in 1957, when Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Rubinstein inaugurated it with the first concert,” the 77-year-old Mehta said in an interview. “We have improved it in every way.” He has worked with the orchestra for more than 40 years and been its music director since 1977.
The building changed names during its course of renovations that took about two years. What is called in Hebrew “Heichal Hatarbut” is now in English the Charles Bronfman Auditorium, changed from the original Mann Auditorium after the Seagram Co. beverage scion donated $10 million.
The Tel Aviv municipality invested 70 million shekels ($18.9 million) toward the 140 million shekel total.
“I’m very happy,” Mehta told reporters at the dress rehearsal before the show. He clapped his hands. “Even this sounds different,” he added with a smile.
The two other pieces played by the Philharmonic at its first concert in its newly renovated home on May 25 were Mahler’s Fifth Symphony -- which also got an ovation -- and “Festivale Prelude” by Israeli composer Noam Sheriff.
Perlman chose the Beethoven, Mehta told Bloomberg: “it is ideal to play a real classical masterpiece in a new acoustical circumstance.” Mahler’s Fifth, with its opening funeral march and the ending that shows “victory of the spirit,” he said, “shows everything an orchestra can do and an acoustical condition can portray.”
“Festivale Prelude” was one of the pieces played under Bernstein’s baton in the first ever concert in the hall. “We’re going down memory lane,” Mehta said.
It all started 10 years ago, when the Indian-born Mehta approached Tel Aviv City Hall. “The acoustics are a mess,” he told the mayor.
“A request made by a maestro is, as you know, stronger than a command,” Mayor Ron Huldai, who served as a pilot in the Israeli Air Force, joked on opening night. “And that was the beginning of a long and difficult saga.”
The renovations maintained the building’s facade, considered by the architects as one of the better examples of 1950s Tel Aviv architecture and influenced by Le Corbusier.
A great effort was made to “keep it the same, while making it look higher class as it was all built in the 1950s when Israel was still in the rationing stage,” said Ofer Kolker, one of the architects.
“Halls have improved all over the world and the orchestra would experience so much better on tours,” said Kolker. “The musicians would say they ‘returned to their misery’ here.”
Huldai recalled for the audience, in a speech before the concert, how as a young boy who played an instrument and loved classical music, he received tickets for the Philharmonic as a gift and took three buses from his home on a kibbutz to hear the concert from a balcony seat.
The orchestra was born in December 1936 as the Palestine Orchestra when Polish-born violinist Bronislaw Huberman, foreseeing the Holocaust, persuaded 75 Jewish musicians from major European orchestras to immigrate to Palestine.
Other concerts this week include a recital by Perlman accompanied by Sri Lankan pianist Rohan de Silva; a concert featuring Israeli-born violinist and conductor Pinchas Zuckerman; and the opera “Itamar Meets a Rabbit,” with writer David Grossman.
Mehta compared to the new acoustics to those at the Disney Concert Hall and said Tel Aviv now had a concert hall comparable to any other in the world.
“Israel has always been very culture conscious and is even more so now,” he said. “I keep coming back because the people love music. They need it.”
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