In 1936, Jewish Polish violinist Bronisław Huberman, anticipating the coming Holocaust, convinced 75 Jewish musicians from Europe’s best orchestras to move to Palestine. In founding the Palestine Orchestra, Huberman wished to create what he called the “materialization of the Zionist culture in the fatherland”. He invited Arturo Toscanini to conduct their inaugural concert on December 26th. Toscanini, having already left his Italian homeland over fears of the escalation of Fascism, left his famous NBC Symphony Orchestra in America for several weeks to come to Tel Aviv and “render paternal care to the newly born” in the name of humanity.
The musicians of the orchestra communicated largely in German, Polish, Hungarian and Russian. Only a few spoke Hebrew. Wishing to integrate into the region, the orchestra travelled on tours to Egypt under the leadership of Toscanini and another Italian conductor, Bernardino Molinari, between 1940 and 1943.
On May 14th, 1948, the orchestra played the National Anthem at the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, now under the name of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO). A few months later, the young Leonard Bernstein conducted the orchestra in a concert at the Beersheba Dunes with the sound of the retreating Egyptian army in the background. The orchestra travelled in army vehicles to the besieged Jerusalem, attempting to boost the morale of both civilians and soldiers. The orchestra’s deep involvement in its country’s politics and desire to manifest ideas of Israeli statehood through art were also expressed later – both during the Six-Day and Yom Kippur Wars, as well as the Gaza Conflict, the musicians continued to give concerts several times a day.
In the forties, wishing to demonstrate their emotional belonging and support of the new state of Israel, conductors Serge Koussevitzky, Sergiu Celibidache, Paul Klecki, Carlo Maria Giulini, violinists Jascha Heifetz, Yehudi Menuhin, Isaac Stern, Nathan Milstein, pianists Arthur Rubinstein and Claudio Arrau, cellist Paul Tortellier and many others performed with the orchestra.
In 1950, the orchestra went on its first American tour, conducted by Serge Koussevitzky, Leonard Bernstein and Izler Solomon.
In the sixties, Israeli-born violinists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman made their debuts with the orchestra, as well as pianist Daniel Barenboim, who moved from Argentina to Israel at the age of ten. Zubin Mehta and Glenn Gould also performed with the orchestra. The orchestra made its first recordings with conductors Paul Klecki, George Solti and Lorin Maazel, and since that time the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra has collaborated with the major record companies: Sony, EMI, Deutsche Grammophon, Teldec, and others.
In 1971, the orchestra was invited to play at festivals in Salzburg, Lucerne and Edinburgh, as well as to perform in Berlin. In 1976, Arthur Rubinstein made his final recording – Brahms’ First Piano Concerto – with the IPO and Zubin Mehta. In the seventies, Leonard Bernstein again took the orchestra on concert tours to Europe, the US, Mexico and Japan.
In the eighties, the orchestra played for the first time in Poland, the USSR, China and India – Zubin Mehta’s homeland. A decade previously, Mehta had been awarded the title of Music Director for Life, and in reply, he said “I will stay for as long as the players want me.” The orchestra gave Bernstein the title of Laureate Conductor (1988) and Kurt Masur was given the title of Honorary Guest Conductor (1992). The IPO’s Principal Guest Conductor since 2011 is Italian Gianandrea Noseda.
Every year, the orchestra gives guest concerts at arts centres and prestigious festivals worldwide. It not only meets with the world’s best conductors and soloists, but also works to nurture young Israeli talents. The orchestra often performs works by Israeli composers, including new compositions. It also promotes the integration of immigrants into Israeli society, as it hires many immigrant musicians. Season ticket holders attend concerts not only in the orchestra’s home, the Charles R. Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv, but also in Jerusalem and Haifa.
During the 2018/2019 season, the IPO will perform with conductors Vasily Petrenko, Christoph Eschenbach, Manfred Honeck, Ilan Volkov, pianists Martha Argerich, Denis Matsuev, Khatia Buniatishvili, violinists Lisa Batiashvili, Leonidas Kavakos, Joshua Bell, the Munich Bach Choir, the Prague Philharmonic Choir, and many more excellent musicians.
Since 2000, more than 20,000 children and young people have taken part every year in the orchestra’s Keynote Program. By meeting the orchestra and its musicians, children are introduced to music in an intimate atmosphere in their classrooms, in the Tel Aviv concert hall, and at workshops given by the orchestra musicians and guest performers.
In 2010, in collaboration with Tel Aviv University, the orchestra created a special programme called Sulamot for disadvantaged children. Youth orchestras are founded in the country’s most disadvantaged areas, with the hope of fostering values in the children by developing their music and social skills.