JERUSALEM – The final concert of any tour has a special closing-night hotness, when energy reserves can safely be depleted.
But Tuesday’s end to the Philadelphia Orchestra’s 2018 Tour of Europe and Israel, at the ICC Center Jerusalem, added an extra measure of relief: that the tension of a politically-charged tour that began with pro-Palestinian demonstrations had now eased.
In addition, the orchestra was playing music that it probably knew better than any other that it has played all year, thanks to so many repeated performances.
Music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin all but bounced onto the podium for the last number, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, which had the outlines of previous tour performances but with all manner of spontaneous phrase shaping that gave the piece a sense of being created in the moment.
“Todah rabah chaverim,” he exclaimed in Hebrew to the audience during his bows. That means, “Thank you, friends.”
Between curtain calls, Nézet-Séguin was seen backstage dancing along to the rhythmic hand-clapping coming from an audience that was on its feet. He returned to the stage to hug principal oboist Richard Woodhams, who is retiring at the end of the season this summer, after Saratoga.
Likely the final concert’s energy also came from what had been, in purely artistic terms, a highly successful tour, at least as far as the concert halls were concerned. The symphonic works were ones the orchestra could play with distinct authority, and the right soloists were paired with the right repertoire.
Helene Grimaud was a natural choice for the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1: It’s been central to her repertoire for years but is a piece she has grown with by leaps and bounds.
A more challenging choice was Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 (“Age of Anxiety”), which is a hybrid, cross-genre work that begins like chamber music, dips into manic pianistic jazz, and ends like a vintage Hollywood movie. Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet delivered a highly distilled view.
After the performance at the Jerusalem concert, one listener asked, “What was that?” Judging from the audience response in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the piece has a special pipeline into the Israeli psyche.
In addition to its formal concerts, the orchestra often makes a point of having pop-up performances and school visits during international tours.
But while there were plenty of those in recent days at various Israeli schools, several other outreach visits to Palestinian, Arab, and Syrian communities have been canceled along the way on the 2018 tour — both in Europe and in Israel.
Plans to visit a Syrian migrant camp outside Vienna fell through before the orchestra left for Europe when sponsorship failed to materialize. A hoped for visit in Israel to Beit Almusica, which promotes the Palestinian minority, likewise fell through, reportedly because Beit Almusica reportedly didn’t want to enter the political fray.
This week, orchestra violinist Philip Kates had arranged for a concert in East Jerusalem on Tuesday at the Spafford Children’s Center for disadvantaged children. The center Monday decided it didn’t want the attention that came with it.
A Tuesday panel discussion on cultural diplomacy went on as scheduled at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, with two speakers from the orchestra and two Israeli cultural experts. Often, such events rehash what has been heard before, about concepts such as “soft power.” This one went beyond that and was more direct.
Musicologist Yossi Maurey of Hebrew University said what he most fears is that any notion of a return visit by the Philadelphia Orchestra to Israel will be considered too much trouble.
Israel-born Philadelphia Orchestra cellist Udi Bar-David spoke expansively about the demonstrations and concert interruptions earlier on the tour. “It’s something we had not experienced before,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s a bad thing, necessarily. ..”
“We will learn how to prepare for that and learn how to embrace it. Maybe embracing it is the biggest progress you can make.”
Bar-David continued: “I will get in trouble for what I’m about to say, but that’s OK. Look, if that’s the worst that ever happened to a symphony orchestra … if somebody wants to interrupt the concert … maybe it’s OK to accept that it might happen. … We can’t always assume we have the luxury of being on an isolated island.”
More to come
A few extracurricular events remain in Israel featuring a handful of orchestra musicians who’ve chosen to stay for two days beyond the end of the concert schedule.
Wednesday, a few musicians will visit a music school in Netivot in southern Israel, near the recent border skirmishes with Gaza that have caused rampant wildfires in the area.
A “Dinner in the Desert” event with Michael Solomonov, the Israeli-born chef known for his Philadelphia restaurant, Zahav, was also meant to happen in that area but is being moved closer to Tel Aviv for safety reasons.
The orchestra visit’s impact on Israel remains to be assessed. Will it be forever upstaged by the headlines about the wildfires?
More likely, it will be upstaged by soccer. Tuesday night, as the orchestra was returning to its Tel Aviv hotel from the Jerusalem concert and musicians were beginning to pack for the flight back home, news broke that Argentina’s national football team had canceled a friendly match with Israel that had been scheduled in Jerusalem for Saturday.
David Patrick Stearns will report from Israel on tour-affiliated music classes and other activities through Thursday.
David Patrick Stearns’ coverage of the Philadelphia Orchestra on Tour is made possible by a partnership between the Philadelphia Inquirer and WRTI 90.1.