On Sunday, just after lighting my Chanukiyah, I realized that I was not nearly as tired as I had thought. Trying to keep my expenditures in check, I had made myself scrambled eggs for dinner and had changed into sweats for a quiet evening, but now I was feeling energized and the conversation on the bus had me wondering, what was the possibility that I could go to a concert tonight? I looked at the website for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, saw that the night’s concert was at 19:30, included piano concerti of both Bartok and Beethoven, and that the soloist was Yefim Bronfman and Zubin Mehta was conducting. With a little state-side encouragement from my friend Shaula that I could walk there in 10 minutes, I threw my clothes back on, brushed my hair, and ignored the tired-looking face that stared back from the mirror while I brushed my teeth.
Umbrella in hand, I left the apartment with the directions on my phone sending me back to Zalman, through Meir Park toward Dizengoff, but this time, up the hill on a much darker and clearly beautiful, residential couple of blocks of Dizengoff. I trusted my memory of the directions and made haste across crosswalks with green walk signs as the rain started to become heavy and then I was in the complex – walking between the Helena Rubinstein Pavillion and the Charles Bronfman Auditorium. I quickened my step as it was now 7:22 and I still needed to buy a ticket.
I asked for the least expensive ticket (no there are not student discounts said the young man behind the glass) – 240 shekels for nose-bleed seats … Yes. I’ll take it. I’m at one of the world’s most amazing concert halls with one of the world’s best orchestras, a legendary conductor, and extraordinary pianist … I bounce up the steps to the balcony and am let in just as a sweet-throated young boy sings the brachot (blessings) and lights the Chanukiyah and then, accompanied by the orchestra under the baton of Maestro Mehta, leads us all in Ma’oz Tzur (Rock of Ages).
The first piece on the program is Strauss ~ Till Eulenspiegel. They don’t turn the house lights down and the man several rows behind me insists on continuously snorting in a most disgusting fashion and I am seriously tempted to offer him a tissue. I am distracted and will myself into the Strauss, admittedly not one of my favorites. The orchestra is enormous in its configuration on stage and the concert hall is gorgeously laid out. The acoustics are magnificent and two enormous screens allow the audience to see close up shots of the musicians as small solos are passed around in this piece depicting the pranks of the German peasant folk hero, Till. The concertmaster grew up in Columbus, Shaula told me, and the orchestra appears to be a lovely mix of ages and nationalities.
After the Strauss, the piano rises up from below as the stage is reset for the Bartok Piano Concerto #2. Zubin Mehta, who has a stature and grace that belies his 80 years of age, began his relationship with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) four years after I was born! He is so integrally linked with Israel and the IPO in my mind, that I was fascinated to learn the following from an article in the Times of Israel today about Mehta announcing his October 2019 retirement from the IPO:
Despite having led the Israel Philharmonic for almost half a century, Mehta does not speak Hebrew, though he speaks fluent German and can get by in Yiddish. Nor is he Jewish, though speaking of his Persian background he told the New York Times in 1998 that “We are the Jews of India.”
Mehta returns to stage with Yefim Bronfman ~ one of my favorite pianists for his ability to play the softest of notes as if his enormous fingers (they really are anything but delicate-looking) are gently slicing into a keyboard made of butter. The second movement of the Bartok begins so quietly with lush strings and a slow and powerful piano solo and rumblings from the timpani.
And then, just like that, it was raining! Inside!! In this gorgeous concert hall … the back of the balcony of the hall to be precise. At first there were angry glances – we couldn’t figure out what and who was making all of the noise and why it wasn’t stopping. But as the water continued to loudly pound on what looked like long plastic tablecloths that had been used to cover a large swath of the rear balcony seats, it became disturbingly clear that the IPO had sold many balcony seats for over $60 fully aware that there was a serious leak in the roof and, so it appeared, hoping that it wouldn’t begin to rain again during the concert???
All through the 2nd and 3rd movements of the Bartok, people continued to migrate away from the leaking roof in Section ּב into Section א where I sat in row 33. Two young women in their 30s, I’d guess, sat next to me and at intermission we joined forces to approach the ticket office. The ticket office was closed, but I found an usher/security person and eventually the growing group was told in Hebrew (which I did understand and translated into English for my new friends, both musicians from Berlin, one German, one Chinese) that they were sorry but they couldn’t do anything for us. We would need to contact the box office the next day.
At this point, already well into intermission, I was ready to take matters into my own hands. I remembered seeing a number of empty seats in the front of the auditorium, keyboard side, and marched my tentative posse into the majestic concert hall. “I am not comfortable with this,” said my quiet and reserved German friend, but she followed me as did a number of others. By the time we’d walked the length of the flower-covered stage and settled into our new seats, I had a new family of incredulous foreigners – English, Welsh, French, German, and Australian – all of us shocked that the rain seemed to be such an unexpected visitor, catching our stalwart Israeli hosts so unprepared. The young women thanked me for what they called my bravery. I explained that I used to be able to pay for such seats, but as a mid-life student I had learned the trick of moving to empty seats at intermission. Why should empty seats be deprived of music lovers?
The Beethoven Piano Concerto #3 was exquisite and from the second row, the visual as well as the auditory experience was truly divine! The familiarity and brightness of Beethoven feel like dear friends who have been with me since childhood (records played at home and concerts attended with my parents) and have grown with me as an adult concert-goer and classical music listener. My years of piano lessons and singing with the CSO only deepened my appreciation for the level of commitment one must have to play music like this with such seeming effortlessness. I cannot contain my smile even as I weep through the beginning of the 2nd movement, so sweet and loving the theme that is played by the strings and then passed to the piano. And the joy of watching Bronfman’s perfectly arched fingers on the screen right in front of me when I am able to tear my gaze from the actual view of the full stage. He is truly tickling the ivories and the results are pure delight. When I notice that the violins are on the last page of the score I wish I could push the reset button and listen to the entire concert again sitting right here.
Bronfman treats us to an encore which Mehta watches from the seat of one of the cellists. The appreciation is visible on his face sitting amongst his musicians and enjoys the opportunity to “take a load off” and just be a spectator in this spectacular hall.
I nearly float back to the apartment. I don’t want the night to be over and I’ve been awake for so long now that I am past feeling tired. After my Friday excursion, a combination of fatigue and jet lagged caused me to sleep until Shabbat evening and then, I couldn’t fall asleep even as the nighttime entered the wee hours of the morning. By 5 a.m., it didn’t make any sense to go to sleep. Thus, this day of exploration and exhilaration had actually begun more than 27 hours before I exited the concert.
It is hard to describe the rollercoaster ride that has been my emotional, psycho-spiritual, and physical experience of the past 7 days. Exactly a week ago, I was frantically making last minute arrangements, doing laundry, packing up books, clothing, and other items essential to my journey to Israel for 2 weeks of travel followed by 2 weeks of intensive language study (ulpan) followed by 5 weeks of yeshiva-style study at Pardes. Over the past six days, I have been forced to release the expectations I have of my ability to squeeze in as much as possible to “make the most” of my travel time. I have relied heavily on the encouragement and love of good friends half way across the world to be kind and gentle and compassionate with myself and have worked to minimize the voices that insist I “push myself ” in ways that feel unnatural to me.
I have also learned that you can step out of your life and shake things up considerably and that your delights and your demons are still there. I have been reminded that I am a clinical extrovert – energized by my interactions with humanity – and that I also need substantial quiet time. I have also noticed that my depth of feel, emotional exposure, and romantic notions of life’s vibrancy take a toll while also allowing me to soar. I’ve been keenly aware that even an extrovert can feel shy and that no matter how much I feel “at home” in Israel, it is still a “foreign country” to me where I don’t speak the language or know the customs or even the currency well enough to walk about without expending a great deal of energy. And, I have been reminded, every other day, when I’ve been too tired to leave the apartment, that being on an extraordinary journey without a partner is very lonely and that loneliness has its own energy tax. Nonetheless, I am profoundly grateful ~ grateful for the journey, grateful for the freedom, and grateful for the capacity to feel so deeply.