Throngs of Jerusalemites made their way to the Jerusalem Theater Wednesday night for the season's opening concert, the first in a year's program dedicated to celebrating 75 years since the founding of the Israel Broadcasting Authority's Jeusalem Symphony Orchestra. Wine and chocolates greeted the music lovers as they entered the Henry Crown Hall, lending an air of festivity.
President Shimon Peres was there as was Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman and other well-known figures. The President addressed the packed auditorium, remarking how the present-day orchestra is made up of Israeli-born musicians and a considerable group of immigrant musicians from Russia and other countries.
Peres had warm words for Maestro Frederic Chaslin, the Orchestra's new director as well as solo pianist for the performance and for guest conductor Jacques Attali, a good friend of Israel whose extraordinary talents have enabled him to be professor, prolific writer, first President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, president of PlaNet Finance and CEO of A&A - in addition to conducting.
Chaslin and Attali stood on the platform to conduct together as the musicians rose to play a stirring rendition of Israel's national anthem, Hatikva, complete with cymbals and percussion insturments for the final verses, a longstanding tradition for the first concert of each season. The audience, which had risen to its feet as well, broke into applause at the end of the anthem.
A program of Ravel, Beethoven and Israeli composer Partos reached a crescendo with the performance of Stravinsky's The Firebird in which the orchestra and conductor pulled out all the stops to express the grandeur of the famous theme that ends the compostion - in fact, playing it twice, as the wildly clapping audience insisted on an encore..
Igor Stravinsky came to visit Israel in 1962, and again in 1964 for an all Stravinsky program at which he himself conducted his Symphony of Psalms. He was so impressed by the musicians, that despite his 82 years, he rose and applauded enthusiastically at the end of the evening.
Stravinsky was one of many internationally-famous figures in the world of classical music who performed with the orchestra, founded as an ensemble in 1936 as part of the music section of Israel radio. Today, the orchestra has varied concert series, including a well-attended family concert series that introduces youngsters to the world of classical music, musical instruments and the orchestra in participative and innovative ways that command the attention of the youngsters..
Legendary conductor Otto Klemperer was the first to come to perform in Israel with the orchestra, but other historic concerts featured figures such as Artur Rubinstein, Yehudi Menuhin, Isaac Stern, Mstislav Rostropovich, Pablo Casals and Henryk Szeryng. Each concert this year will highlight works by one of the world-renowned musicians who came to Israel to enhance the orchestra's performances in its early days.