Israel Philharmonic Orchestra makes rare San Francisco appearance
One of the most exciting things about the appearance of the famed Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at Davies Symphony Hall on Feb. 27–28 is the inimitable Zubin Mehta will be holding the baton.
It’s an auspicious year for the orchestra, which is on a seven-city tour of American cities. It marks the 75th anniversary of the company and the 50th anniversary of Mehta with the orchestra.
How Mehta rose to his position is the stuff of legends. Fifty years ago, conductor Eugene Ormandy became ill. A 25-year-old Mehta filled in for him. He was no longer an unknown. Mehta has conducted over 2,000 concerts as music director of the Israel Philharmonic.
Miriam Beazley, principal violist, was about the same age as Mehta when she joined the orchestra. She’s been there for 27 years. In a telephone interview with Beazley from Tel Aviv, she recounted some of the great moments for her, particularly playing under the direction of Leonard Bernstein. She says Bernstein’s and Mehta’s style could not have been more different.
“Bernstein was an unusual conductor,” she says. “He would conduct in a heartfelt way, using his eyes, his arms, his whole body. But the orchestra was so terrified of him, we all stuck together. Mehta, on the other hand is so precise. I don’t know how he does it. During my first couple of weeks, he stopped the orchestra and glared at me because I played a down-bow, not an up-bow. I think my career, no, I thought my life was over.”
But Mehta turned out to be a sweet guy.
“He is such a mensch,” says Beazley. “When my mother was sick, he insisted I fly to Philadelphia to see her. When the gulf war broke out, Mehta dropped his commitments around the world to fly to Israel where the Scud missiles were falling all around us. He cares about everyone.”
Beazley also remembers how her husband had to shave his beard to fit into a gas mask.
“My mother was in the States, watching the war on CNN. It made her so nervous, she got shingles.”
The Israel Philharmonic also maintains an education program, playing for kids all over Israel.
“I remember playing at a cloister for homeless children,” she recalls. “The kids were unruly; they were screaming. But when we started to play, these troubled children fell silent.”
This might be a message for state officials who are cutting music programs in California schools.
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Avenue (at Grove), Feb. 27–28, 415-864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org. There will also be a gala fundraising reception for the orchestra; for tickets and information, contact the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, 212-697-2949, email@example.com or www.afipo.org/events.asp .