DVO ÁK BERNSTEIN
ISRAEL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA
Leonard Bernstein first worked with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (then still the Palestine Orchestra) in 1947. It was a relationship of the greatest importance for conductor and orchestra: after the New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony, he appeared more often with the Israel Philharmonic than with any other orchestra. On 27 April 1947, on his earliest visit, Bernstein wrote from strife-riven Tel Aviv to his mentor Serge Koussevitzky: If you ever wanted to be involved in a historical moment, this is it. The people are remarkable; life goes on in spite of bombs, police, everything. There is a strength and devotion in these people that is formidable. They will never let their land be taken from them: they will all die first ... The orchestra is fine, and I am having a great success ... Please don t be worried about me; the bombs fly but the newspapers exag-gerate.
Bernstein later described his first meeting with the orchestra as an incredible encounter. We all seemed to feel ... that it was the beginning of a long relationship. In the autumn of 1948, he returned to Israel for a series of concerts with the newly named Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. During a gruelling tour, Bernstein played several times for soldiers, most famously in a concert on 20 November 1948 when he travelled with the orchestra in an armoured bus to the recently besieged desert city of Beersheba. He played piano concertos by Mozart and Beethoven (with Gershwin s Rhapsody in Blue as an encore) on an improvised outdoor stage to a large audience of troops and local residents.
Bernstein always felt that he was needed in Israel, and worked tirelessly on the orchestra s behalf. As the violinist Isaac Stern put it after Bernstein s death: Lenny had basic loyalties. One was to Israel, which was in his blood and in his cells, and he gave of himself unstintingly there in a way that they will never forget. On 9 July 1967, he conducted the IPO in a historic concert at the amphitheatre on Jerusalem s Mount Scopus to mark the end of the Six Day War, playing the Israeli national anthem Hatikvah, Mendelssohn s Violin Concerto (with Stern) and the last three movements of Mahler s Resurrection Symphony a visibly moved Bernstein wore a striking white suit that several observers described as giving him the appearance of an angel. From the 1970s onwards, he recorded extensively with the IPO, including much of his own orchestral music. It was also with the IPO that Bernstein made his later recordings of Stravinsky, Mendelssohn, Hindemith, Bloch and Foss.
Bernstein s earliest New World Symphony recording was made in 1953 with the New York Stadium Symphony Orchestra, and he subsequently made an outstanding record of it with the New York Philharmonic in 1962. More than 20 years later, this Israel Philharmonic performance was recorded at a concert on 24 September 1986 in the Salle Pleyel, Paris, during a tour to celebrate the orchestra s 50th anniversary. (The three Slavonic Dances were recorded two years later back in the orchestra s own home, the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv.) This is much the most individual of his three versions of the New World , and the circumstances may have had a bearing on that. The threat of terrorism was a constant worry at the time of the IPO tour, and Paris had experienced several incidents in the weeks before this performance, including a bomb attack in the Rue de Rennes on 17 September that left seven people dead and more than 50 injured. Once he had returned to America, Bernstein spoke to a group of Harvard University students on Truth in a Time of War (a session that began at 2 a.m.) and recalled the grim situation in the city: Paris had just undergone a relentless storm of terrorist abuse ... I could go nowhere without