Israel Philharmonic ‘is 50 years behind the times’

Israel Philharmonic ‘is 50 years behind the times’


norman lebrecht

July 26, 2016

The critic and psychiatrist Amir Mandel has published a stinging attack in the Haaretz newspaper on the national orchestra, accusing it of failing to renew its repertoire since he first became a subscriber 45 years ago.

I decided to compare what was played in 1966 to what the orchestra is offering next season. One statistic is especially prominent: Over 75 percent of the 2016-17 program contains nothing written in the past 50 years. Quite the opposite was true in 1966, when over 60 percent of the offerings had come from the previous 50 years.

And furthermore: There are even instances when it seems that the IPO is not just treading in place but rather even moving backward, presenting an even more outdated artistic policy than it did half a century ago. For example, in 1966, we find in the program works by William Walton, Michael Tippett and Alban Berg – all 20th-century composers who were part and parcel of the contemporary and vibrant discourse of the world of new music. Not only is a 2016 discourse absent from the upcoming season’s program: Those composers featured in 1966 have almost completely disappeared from its radar screen.

This may have something to do with the IPO having the same maestro and manager team for much of the past 50 years.

Read the full article here.

Israeli Philharmonic conductor Zubin Metha receives an ovation after finishing Mendelssohn's Ouverture The Hebrides  ("Fingal's Cave") op 26 at the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles late 05 February 2007. Founded by Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman in 1936, the original orchestra was formed by first-chair musicians of eastern European and German orchestras, who had lost their jobs as a result of nazism. Huberman convinced the musicians to immigrate to Palestine and created the Israel Philharmonic. AFP PHOTO / HECTOR MATA (Photo credit should read HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images)


  • V.Lind says:

    How many of your readers do you suppose subscribe to Haaretz?

    Based on what you quote from the article, my only question is, which composers does he suppose comprise the “vibrant discourse” today? The last two composers to be household names were Britten and Bernstein, and the latter owed a good deal of his fame to working in crossover. The most famous living composer is probably Philip Glass, and that is largely due to movie scores, though they certainly attracted me, who first encountered him through one, to explore further.

    Nonetheless, the Israeli orchestra ought to be familiar with a few more of them, and could indeed introduces more to their programming. But they probably know something about their audience.

  • Ludwig says:

    In these tough times for classical music, it’s all about what people want to hear – NOT WHAT ONE WANTS THEM TO HEAR, OR TO PUT A CONTEMPORARY COMPOSER CHECK MARK!

    An orchestra is a living acoustical museum, some museums specialize in natural art, some in medieval, some in modern, etc…The loss in orchestral individuality is precisely the idea that all orchestras must specialize in everything- thus defeating tradition!

  • David Boxwelll says:

    Has the IPO ever gotten ANY unconditional love from record reviewers? Even when Bernstein and Mehta were at the helm?

    • M2N2K says:

      What do you mean “were”? Zubin Mehta is still their MD “For Life” (at least) and therefore definitely “at the helm”.

  • Don Ciccio says:

    I am curious if there is a database of IPOs concerts, or perhaps the critic had other sources for his 1966 repertoire.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    The last 50 years has been a barren time for new music.

    Lots composed, but little of it done well enough that anyone would want to hear it a second time.

    The “avant garde” turned out to be not at the forefront of music, but merely lost on the uninteresting edges.

    • Mikey says:

      There was plenty of music written in the last 50 years that is worth rehearing. If you only consider “avant garde” music to be acceptable as “new music” then you limit yourself to a minuscule portion of musical creation over that time.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The great anti-musical desert in the postwar period destroyed a living tradition, and built walls everywhere throughout the territory of serious music. General developments in Western culture towards more technology, more materialism, more populism, more pop, did the rest. Serious music – art music – is, in its essence, not entertainment or a form of science, but a spiritually-informed, highly subjective art, and where materialism etc. takes hold, classical music disappears out of sight.

      So, apparently the IPO’s programming policy is merely reflecting an overall trend.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        All music is, essentially, entertainment. Some of it is also “good” in the sense that the music written by Mozart and Beethoven is “good”, which means performing it continues to entertain many years later.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Classical music, as a serious art form, is not entertainment, even where some entertaining element is present. If it were entertainment, there were no justification for any state support for orchestras, concert halls, opera houses, music schools, conservatories, music libraries. Condemning classical music to be mere entertainment is populism.

  • Edgar says:

    No Israeli composers worth performing? None at all? Just curious.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Well, if ”over 75 percent of the 2016-17 program contains nothing written in the past 50 years” (sic) then about 25% of the concerts included music written since 1966. Not a bad record for a traditional symphony orchestra!

  • Alex O says:

    I happened to be visiting the IPO and last Thursday, with a quite “old” program, the place was packed to the rafters. Their coming season looks impressive and if Thursday is a sample of the audience attendance, seems that they do please the crowd.
    And as Pianofortissimo mentioned, 25% of “other” music, is not bad at all.

  • Alvaro Gallegos says:

    The IPO hasn’t performed any piece by one of the leading composers in Israel, Leon Schidlowsky, since 2002.