Cultural diplomacy

The Philadelphia Orchestra, also known to its admirers as the Fabulous Philadelphians, is set to embark on its European-Israeli tour and will be in Israel for three concerts between June 3 and 5 in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Established in 1900, the Philadelphia Orchestra is considered one of the preeminent orchestras in the world. Its visit to Israel this year was made possible with the assistance of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia in order to coincide with the celebratory mood of Israel’s 70th anniversary year. In 1998, the Philadelphia Orchestra invited the Israel Philharmonic to Philadelphia for a side- by-side concert to celebrate 50 years of the Jewish state. This year, the Philadelphia Orchestra is coming here.

Its young and dynamic music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin is celebrating his eighth season in Philadelphia, and this will be his first visit to Israel. He divides his time between current positions as music director of the Orchestre Metropolitain (Montreal), the Metropolitan Opera and as principal conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. He is excited and enthusiastically comments that traveling to Israel with the extraordinary Philadelphia Orchestra is a dream come true.

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“Traveling and touring as an orchestra is a big enterprise,” Nézet-Séguin explains. “But it’s always important to remember why we do this. We do it because we believe that sharing is at the core of music, and sharing means sharing your own cultural backgrounds, sharing your own beliefs. This is, in a nutshell, what music is all about.” In addition to its formal concerts, the Philadelphia Orchestra will be involved throughout the tour in giving a series of master classes, pick-up concerts and round table discussions. The conductor explains that these events are part of the cultural diplomacy that the orchestra invests in on every level.

“The orchestra’s mission,” he says, “is not just about delivering exceptional performances and connecting with Philadelphians through music. We are also committed to letting the power and beauty of our music bring people and cultures together in ways that would not otherwise take place. That is cultural diplomacy, and it is why the Philadelphia Orchestra leaves the city limits and why we travel internationally. The orchestra has been doing so since 1936! On this tour, we are looking forward to our concerts and residency activities, which will enable us to interact with Israeli citizens and to unite people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs through the universal language of music.”

The tour begins in Europe – with performances in the fine concert halls of Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany and Austria – ultimately leading to concerts in Israel, where the orchestra will play Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in all three cities. Balancing the program are two world-famous pianists who are extending their tour to accompany the orchestra to Israel.

French pianist Helene Grimaud has performed with Nézet-Séguin in concerts all over the world, and their collaboration has been awarded the highest kudos and awards. On June 3, Grimaud will perform Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Haifa Auditorium, Rappaport Hall.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet will be the soloist in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with the Philadelphia Orchestra, playing Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 (aka “The Age of Anxiety”) for solo piano and orchestra.

“The Age of Anxiety is a very unusual work,” the conductor remarks. “It could be described as a piano concerto; however, Bernstein envisioned it more as the piano representing himself in the middle of the story being told by the orchestra.”

Thibaudet has been hailed by critics as the master interpreter of this piece.

The basis of Bernstein’s symphony is a poem television 7 movies dining events highlights out & about called “The Age of Anxiety” by W.H. Auden, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948. Bernstein was quite taken with the poem and, in 1949, wrote the symphony in six short movements for orchestra and solo piano, closely following Auden’s text.

“I consider Symphony No. 2 for piano and orchestra to be one of Bernstein’s finest works, in which his genius for form, melody, expression and ease with the more popular-oriented music all blend beautifully together,” says Nézet-Séguin.

The Philadelphia Orchestra is renowned for its distinctive sound. When asked how much of this sound is a legacy of the fine conductors it has had over the years and how it best can be described, Nézet-Séguin replies, “My way of describing the Philadelphia Sound is this: generosity. The richness of the string sound; the generous personalities of the woodwinds; the unified and distinctive brass… but more importantly, it is the generosity of spirit that characterizes this orchestra, by which I mean every musician gives 200% in each performance. Of course, all my predecessors shaped this sound over the decades, and it is my responsibility now to nurture it and also to carry it over into other areas of the repertoire.”

For ticket information: Tel Aviv: The Israel Philharmonic *3766; www.ipo.co.il. Haifa: Kupat Haifa (04) 866-2244; www.8662244co.il. Jerusalem: Bimot 86226; www.bimot.co.il