Rare audio: Klemperer’s last notes in Jerusalem

Rare audio: Klemperer’s last notes in Jerusalem


norman lebrecht

September 03, 2016

The founder of the Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival, Yehezkel Beinisch, has just told me that he played trombone in Otto Klemperer’s Mahler Ninth, in August 1970.

Klemperer had refused to work with the Israel Phil, for all the usual reasons, and chose the Israel Broadcasting orchestra, which was not of the same calibre, though you can hardly know by the intensity of its playing here.

Beinisch, a musician who had become a successful lawyer, moved heaven and earth to get into the orchestra in order to experience the wisdom of a master who had worked with Gustav Mahler.

This was Klemperer’s last visit to Israel He died in Switzerland in July 1973.

klemperer face to face


Here’s the recording:


  • Mark says:

    I believe Klrmperer didn’t refuse to work with the Israel Philharmonic, but was not invited as the orchestra had a policy against working with converted Jews. Only a single exception was made – for Koussevitzki, during the IPO’s first American tour.

    • Carlos Solare says:

      The story of Klemperer being refused by the orchestra (and not the other way round, whatever “the usual reasons” are supposed to be) is told in several collections of Klemperer anecdotes, so it’s probably true. I won’t re-tell it here because Klemperer’s reply to the orchestra’s manager is one of those quips that are deemed un-PC and anti-Semitic if told by a gentile!

      • richard dorset says:

        oh go on please

      • Michael Endres says:

        I always found Klemperers anecdotal answer to the manager of the Israel Philharmonic very funny and mischievous, most Woody Allen films are full of ironic remarks like that.
        K.’s sardonic humour is not for the faint hearted.

        PS and off topic:
        my favourite Klemperer reply

        Otto Klemperer ran across Fischer Dieskau during the Vienna festival. “Maestro” , says the singer, ” I had a dream the other night: Bach himself was praising me for my performance in the Matthew passion.”
        2 days later, they meet again: “Fischer” , says the maestro, “I had a dream last night: I was talking to Bach and he told me that he didn’t know you.”

        • Amos says:

          The DF-D Bach Klemperer story about the Passion I heard was that DF-D wanted to find a way to complain about the slow tempos so he told OK that he had a dream in which god told him how impressed he was by the performance but was troubled by the slow tempi. To which OK said he too had a dream and god asked who the hell is DF-D?

      • Mark says:

        I heard the story many years ago from the director of the IPO Archives who told it to me, laughing.
        Non-PC, sure, but to the devil with PC !!!
        Upon being told of IPO’s policy with respect to converted Jews, Klemperer reminded the manager (it might have been the violinist Zvi Haftel) about Serge Koussevitzki’s appearances with the orchestra.
        “But Dr. Klemperer, Dr. Koussevitzki waved his fee !” “Well, I am too Jewish for that!” answered Klemperer

        • Hilary says:

          Another gem:

          When Fischer-Dieskau was starting a career as conductor, he happened to meet Otto Klemperer in a London street and invited him to come to his concert the following Thursday, when he would conduct Brahms’s fourth symphony. “Sorry, I can’t,” Klemperer countered. “I’m singing Winterreise that night.”

          • Stephen says:

            I believe the authentic reply was, after pretending to consult his diary, “Sorry, that night I’m going to hear Solti sing ‘Winterreise’. (And it is a fact that Klemperer often went to hear Solti rehearse and perform while in London.)

          • klemperer85 says:

            Funny – the answer Klemperer has given in the version I know is, directly after Fischer-Dieskau invited him for the Brahms: “Ich geh ja auch nicht hin wenn Solti singt!” (something in the lines of “I would also not be going if Solti would sing”).

  • Daniel F. says:

    Whichever way the story went, I am at a loss as to what NL means by “for all the usual reasons”. Can anyone explain? Thanks in advance.

    This is a great post of enormous historical interest. Interesting that the outer movements are a little FASTER than average, given that a few years earlier OK had recorded a Mahler 7th with outer movements that were, even for him, unusually slow.

  • Cecylia Arzewski says:

    What do you mean by “for the usual reasons”?
    I don’t understand?

    • Hilary says:

      I assume the acoustic of the Mann auditorium which is famously deficient. Did Klemeperer worry about those kind of things though?

      • RODNEY GREENBERG says:

        Look at the recording details. It isn’t the Mann Auditorium (Tel Aviv). It’s Binyanai Ha’ooma, an international concert hall and conference centre in Jerusalem.

        Its acoustics are not ideal for Mahler (and much other classical music) but it accommodated this one-off Klemperer event. Its golden international hours were as the venue for the 1979 Eurovision Song Contest, which Israel was hosting having won the contest the previous year in Paris. Their third win was in Birmingham, 1998.

        • Yeheskell Beinisch says:

          The acoustics in the Jerusalem hall is much better than in the hall in Tel Aviv.
          Even the IPO in early days recorded in Jerusalem and not in Tel Aviv

          • RODNEY GREENBERG says:

            Thanks, good information. Concerts I’ve heard at the Jerusalem Hall have indeed sounded better. So when the Mann Auditorium opened in 1957 it doesn’t seem there was an improvement on Binyanai Ha’ooma, opened in 1956. Cosmetically it was more modernistic, and may have been influenced by the design of the Royal Festival Hall in London (opened 1951), another acoustic semi-failure which has been tinkered with ever since and still isn’t perfect.

            Simon Rattle once said after rehearsing in the Festival Hall for 10 minutes you lose the will to live.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Unco-operativeness, inefficiency, ego inflation

  • Gene Poon says:

    The Kol Israel radio orchestra (the orchestra later became the Jerusalem Symphony) wasn’t even large enough to play Mahler 9 when Otto Klemperer changed the programme from Mahler 4 to Mahler 9. It was supplemented by a youth orchestra. Peter Heyworth’s biography of Klemperer tells of the conductor’s amusement at a fourteen year old playing in the combined orchestra.

    There is a train wreck at 3:07 of the first movement.

    Nevertheless this is a committed and intense performance. It remains among my very favorite recordings of Mahler 9. I am emotionally drained after listening to it. Download it, save it, and cherish it.

    • Daniel F. says:

      “Train-wreck” implies a disaster: at 3:07 the train tips a little because the brasses lose track of the bar-line and/or the downbeat but the journey continues. Listeners who did not know the piece well would likely not have noticed anything amiss.

      Most likely very few of the musicians had ever played this symphony before; neither were they the top players even in Israel. That the aged and infirm Klemperer was able, in a relatively short time, to teach them this very difficult music and got them to play it with great conviction (if not always in tune or entirely together) is what makes this so moving a performance.

  • Anthony Gafson says:

    I was in Israel at the time and attended this performance of Mahler’s 9th.
    It remains in my memory to this day as one of the most moving concerts
    I have ever attended.I believe that at the time of this performance it was reported
    that Klemperer had found his way back to his Jewish roots and this made the
    experience of listening to the final movement even more poignant.
    One had the feeling that Klemperer himself had come to find peace in himself as
    his life was nearing its end.