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Arturo Toscanini, Music Conductor and Orchestra Ally

The following is an excerpt from The Real Toscanini by Cesare Civetta, as posted on PBS’s Orchestra of Exiles page. Read the entire excerpt on their website.

When the Polish violinist Bronisław Huberman founded the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, he asked Toscanini to conduct a benefit concert in New York for the new orchestra. Toscanini decided to travel to Palestine in December of 1936, train the orchestra, and conduct the first concerts of what later became known as the Israel Philharmonic, composed of refugee Jewish musicians who had escaped persecution. Toscanini refused to accept a fee or reimbursement for his travel expenses.

Toscanini: “I had to show my solidarity.” “It is everyone’s duty to help in this cause according to one’s means.”

The news of Toscanini’s plans to inaugurate the orchestra attracted more musicians to join the orchestra and resulted in very successful fund-raising for the new venture. Toscanini stayed for more than a month. The dress rehearsal for the first concert was open to artists and workers. “The public’s response was one of overwhelming emotion. The president of the Hebrew University broke into uncontrollable tears.” There were nine sold-out concerts in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa, and concerts in Cairo and Alexandria. In Tel Aviv, crowds stood outside near the windows and some people even climbed onto the roof attempting to hear. At the end of the first concert, the ovation lasted for more than thirty minutes.

Keep reading this excerpt on PBS.org!

Tune into the PBS premiere of Orchestra of Exiles on Sunday, April 14, 10 pm.

In The Real Toscanini, Cesare Civetta presents an intriguing collection of vivid, one-of-a-kind interviews with artists who performed with Toscanini. A portrait of the inner workings of the maestro emerges through these extensive conversations, conducted by the author over a period of 20 years, together with other firsthand recollections. These accounts clarify Toscanini’s philosophy, musical style, and techniques. They depict a man tormented by inner demons of anger and depression, which were easily triggered by his frustration at being unable to produce the musical ideal in his mind’s ear.

Bronislaw Huberman and the formation of the Israeli Philharmonic

Janet Horvath_019#2 4x5Guest Blogger: Janet Horvath is the author of Playing Less Hurt. Below is a blog post she did on her blog at Interlude.

The legendary violinist and peace activist Bronislaw Huberman was born in Poland December 19, 1882 of Jewish parents. His prodigious talent was manifest at a very early age and it soon became evident that he needed the best teacher in Europe. In 1892 his parents took him to Berlin to study with the pre-eminent and irascible violin teacher Joseph Joachim. Even though the ten-year-old child dazzled Joachim, the teacher and student didn’t get along. When Huberman turned fourteen he left his teacher to begin touring as a virtuoso, never returning to study.

Huberman’s extraordinary career took him all over Europe including in Palestine in 1929. The land mesmerized him and his hope was to establish culture and classical music there. As the dark days of the Nazi party loomed in the 1930’s Huberman presaged the horrific fate of the Jewish people. Hitler’s agenda made itself more and more evident between 1933 -1936. Huberman made extreme efforts to save Jewish musicians and get them out of Europe. He declined invitations to perform in Germany with the prominent conductor Wilhelm Furwängler and he dared speak out to the German intelligentsia in an open letter pleading for adherence to the essential values of empathy and humanity.

Foreseeing the immense tragedy unfolding before his eyes, Huberman attempted to raise funds and awareness for an orchestra in Palestine.

Huberman performed countless concerts all over the world and in October of 1934, he traveled to America to play an amazing forty-two concerts in sixty days. He performed with the New York Philharmonic, Bruno Walter conducting and chamber music with famed pianist Arthur Schnabel. After recording, one day, Huberman met John Royal from NBC for lunch. Huberman waxed eloquent about his dream for the Palestine Orchestra. When he asked Royal who he thought should conduct the first performance of the orchestra Royal replied, “Why not ask Toscanini to conduct for you?” Huberman had not expected an enthusiastic response from the great maestro. But Toscanini was a pre-eminent figure in the anti-fascist movement. Due to his firm beliefs he had refused to conduct at the Wagner festival in Bayreuth in 1933. Toscanini thought that the performance of an “orchestra of émigrés” would be a powerful anti-Nazi statement.

Keep reading this article on Interlude!

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