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Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year 1937 Eve:Toscanini and the Palestine Orchestra

1936 was a rough year for the Jews of Palestine. There were Arab riots, strikes and many terror attacks.

But the Jews did not whine nor did they quit. They fought mightily to live their lives to be as normal as possible even in situations where a bullet could come from anywhere and end any of their lives.

In one representative article in the Palestine Post, we see that Hebrew University was going forward with plans to expand even though students and faculty had been murdered by Arabs that year (All articles here are from the December 31, 1936 Palestine Post):



In the end of the year, the famed conductor Arturo Toscanini came to Jerusalem (at his own expense) to conduct in what was considered a hugely important cultural event to the Palestinian Jews as the coming out of the Palestine Orchestra. (Notice thatneither the ads nor the articles even mention Toscanini's first name; he was that well-known and revered that it was simply not necessary.)

Sadly, the bulk of the article is not available in the Palestine Post archives, but it is clear that the concert series was a smashing success. (One letter writer to the Post did complain about the actions of the press photographers at the previous week's concert, though.)

The Haifa concert on New Year's Eve was sold out:



Haifa residents could enjoy a traditional New Year's party afterwards:


And due to popular demand, an additional concert was scheduled for Jerusalem:



TIME magazine described one concert:
As a full Palestine moon rode one evening last week over Tel Aviv, exclusively Jewish city, the Hebrew Sabbath ended and thousands of Jews began to move toward the Levant Fair Grounds. There they packed the Italian Pavilion to capacity to hear great Arturo Toscanini lead Palestine's first civic orchestra through its first performance. Sir Arthur Grenfell Wauchope, the British High Commissioner, brought with him a party of notables. Open-shirted German immigrants gathered in rowboats on the adjacent Yarkon River. A few Arab fishermen paddled quietly toward shore, listened respectfully outside the pavilion walls which are still pitted by Arab bullets.

Inside those walls Arturo Toscanini was proving again his art, and allaying the fears of those who had heard the orchestra rehearse. A week prior it had been ragged, particularly in winds & strings. But the great master made the Brahms Second come out so clear and controlled. Schubert's Unfinished Symphony sing with such freshness that the audience could forget the flocks of frightened sparrows which swooped and twittered above their heads. There was no raggedness when, partly as a taunt to Nazi Germany, he led them through a scherzo by Jewish Felix Mendelssohn.

The Palestine symphony was grateful to Toscanini for coming all the way to make its debut a success. But all Tel Aviv knew and did not forget that Violinist Bronislaw Huberman was the man who made its debut a possibility. Touring Palestine in December 1935. Huberman, a Polish Jew, was impressed by the attendance and enthusiasm of natives & exiles who came to hear his violin concerts. He determined to build for them an orchestra at Tel Aviv, their brave new cultural capital, and resigned his Vienna teaching post to do so. Already in Palestine, or easily available all over Europe, were scores of refugee Jewish musicians. It was easy to get, as permanent administrators of the new orchestra's trust fund, such influential Jews as Financier Israel Sieff of London, Belgian Industrialist Dannie Heineman. Palestine's Lieut. Col. Frederick Hermann Kisch. Palestine's top-notch lawyer, Solomon Horowitz. Dr. Albert Einstein took the honorary presidency of the U. S. branch of the organization.

The Palestine Symphony Orchestra now numbers 72. Germans make up about half the number, the rest are Poles and Russians. Six are natives of Palestine which has several competent music schools but welcomes the new orchestra as its only permanent symphony. So many first-desk musicians are playing in it that critics expect the Palestine Symphony to rank soon among the first four orchestras in the world. Impresario Huberman is proud to have engaged for the forthcoming season such guest artists as Violinist Adolf Busch and Cellist Pablo Casals. After Toscanini takes the orchestra to Jerusalem, Haifa, Cairo and Alexandria this season, Issay Dobrowen, former conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, Hans Wilhelm Steinberg, onetime director of the Frankfort Opera, and Michael Taube, former leader of famed German ensembles, will replace him on Jewry's proudest podium.

For a people who desire and celebrate life, a few terror attacks will not break their will. In many ways, it makes them more determined than ever to live their lives exactly the way they want to.

For people who are raised in a culture of death, however, one will be hard-pressed to find any similar stories.