Tuesday, November 8, 2022

concerts review: Israel Philharmonic

The Israel Philharmonic made a rare local appearance, under its new music director Lahav Shani, so I decided to hear this noted ensemble. They gave two concerts - that I knew about - one at Davies, an auditorium so large only a massive orchestra can sonically fill it, and one the next day at Bing, an auditorium almost too small for a full orchestra, though it managed to contain the full blast this time, which hasn't always been true in the past.

Repertoire the first night was Mahler's First, the only one of his symphonies I really like, and a curiosity, the First of Paul Ben-Haim, most distinguished of the generation of Israeli composers active in the mid-20C. I'd heard some of his music before, but not this one. It was a well-argued symphony of weight and power, especially notable for a march segment at the end of the first movement. For the second night, an all-Prokofiev program, all well-known stuff: his Classical and Fifth Symphonies and excerpts from Romeo and Juliet.

This is an orchestra of crispness and sparkle rather than power or drive. Not that their flow was listless, but it didn't reach the status of awesomely compelling that you'd expect of an ensemble this good. The pinpoint exactitude of the sound, however, was amazingly vivid, and they kept it up for two whole concerts. Fast figurations came like hardened crystal of extreme detail and complexity. Shani is an impressionistic conductor who waves his arms around in general phrases rather than beating time or giving cues. Usually in a top ensemble this is a sign that the conductor has already done his job in rehearsal, the players know how to do the music, and the conductor is still there mostly for show.

At Davies but not at Bing there were protesters in front of the hall (which fortunately is soundproofed). In the absence of Gergiev-like endorsements of atrocities, which so far as I know there haven't been in this case, I don't hold cultural groups responsible for their government's misdeeds. And if I did, I'd start with the U.S.: I note that the protesters held the U.S. complicit in Israel's actions. But I'm not going to boycott all U.S. orchestras so I won't an Israeli one either.

Both concerts began with the playing of both the U.S. and Israeli national anthems. I stood up for both, out of respect. I don't approve of various things done by governments of either nation, but I believe firmly in both countries' right to exist and I want to acknowledge that.

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