Among the planned highlights of the 2019/2020 season was the Berliner Philharmoniker’s first European Concert in Tel Aviv, to be followed by further performances in Israel. It would also have been the debut of chief conductor Kirill Petrenko in the concert series with which the Philharmoniker annually commemorate the date of the orchestra’s founding on 1 May 1882. Ultimately, the tour had to be cancelled due to the corona pandemic. And as moving as it was for the Berliner Philharmoniker to be able to stage the European Concert in spite of everything – albeit with a chamber music line-up and in its native Berlin – the forced cancellation of the tour of Israel was nevertheless disappointing. Not least, it was intended to tie in with a great moment in recent orchestra history.
In 1990, the Philharmoniker performed in Israel for the first time. After six acclaimed concerts under the baton of Daniel Barenboim, the tour came to a memorable conclusion in Tel Aviv on 18 April with a joint performance with colleagues from the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Both the programme and the instrumentation of the individual pieces were of particular interest and significance: the two orchestras began with a joint performance of the second movement from the First Symphony by Paul Ben Haim, who was born in Germany and emigrated to Palestine in 1933, fleeing from the Nazi regime. The orchestral unison with which the work begins may be understood on this occasion as symbolic. This was followed by the solo performances by two young musicians who were at the beginning of a global career: Munich-born violinist Viviane Hagner was accompanied by the Israeli orchestra and clarinettist Sharon Kam from Haifa by the German orchestra. In the second part of the concert – which came to an acclaimed conclusion with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – the musicians then reunited to form a single ensemble.
The concert was conducted by Zubin Mehta who has a special relationship with both orchestras: the Berliner Philharmoniker appointed the maestro an honorary member in 2019, and Mehta served as music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra for 42 years. His farewell tour from this position also brought him to the Philharmonie Berlin in 2019.