REVIEW: Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

The Israel Philharmonic’s visit to Hill Auditorium had been on my radar as a performance I knew I wanted to see since UMS released their schedule last year.  The original plan was for the orchestra to be led by Maestro Zubin Mehta, a man who is probably the most successful Indian Western classical musician of all time.  Unfortunately, due to health reasons, Maestro Mehta was sidelined for this event, so Maestro Yoel Levi had to conduct in his place.  While Maestro Levi was certainly more than qualified to lead the Israel Philharmonic, a concert conducted by him simply doesn’t have the same allure as one conducted by Zubin Mehta, a veritable giant in the classical music field.  Levi brought excitement to the performance as any good conductor should, but, in my opinion, the amount of technical errors made by the orchestra overshadowed the great energy on stage.  The program started with the playing of the US National Anthem, followed by the Israeli one.  Unfortunately, those were the best pieces they played on the concert.  They started off the real program with a piece for string orchestra.  It was fine, overall.  I didn’t notice any major flaws or anything, but to me it just felt kind of boring.  This could have been due to the piece as opposed to the players, though.  They followed it up with Schubert’s third symphony to round out the first half.  It was OK, again.  My main gripe with this piece was the timpanist’s muting.  Every time he hit a note, there was a sharp, audible cut off an eighth note later.  As a timpanist myself, I can attest that nobody should be making that much extraneous noise, regardless of the style they choose to play or musical background they come from.  It distracted me so much from the rest of the piece that I couldn’t focus on anything else.  Most people in the audience probably didn’t even notice, but to me that was a huge red flag.  The second half of the program was Tchaikovsky’s 6th symphony, a masterwork.  Every major orchestra has played this piece a million times and Israel certainly cannot be an exception to that.  Because of this, I am baffled at how many mistakes they made.  Every time there was a run in the strings or brass, there was absolutely no clarity because they were simply not together.  To make matters worse, there were times when the strings would finish a run and we would be left hearing an incorrect chord.  The brass sounded kind of thin which cannot happen when playing powerful music like that of Tchaikovsky.  The timpanist redeemed himself to an extent on this half.  His strong playing led the orchestra through their best moments of the piece.  Unfortunately, he had some tuning troubles.  He was checking the low drum at intermission with a tuner, so maybe there was some sort of equipment malfunction, but it sounded out of tune at multiple spots.  It was just disappointing to see a world class orchestral play such a standard piece with so many mistakes.  The clarity issues could have been a result of a lack of familiarity with Hill Auditorium, an acoustically superior, yet really weird place to perform.  The other mistakes don’t really have a justification, in my opinion, though.  The encores were solid, but nothing special.  They performed “Nimrod” from Elgar’s Enigma Variations and the “Waltz” from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.  Just when it seemed as though the orchestra was about to redeem itself with an exciting rendition of the waltz, the end fell flat.  As the rest of the orchestra hit an accelerando to end the piece, the low brass fell behind and simply couldn’t hang.  Overall, it was a fitting end to an underwhelming performance by a group that I can only characterize as overhyped.


ajayw is a junior in SMTD and Economics. It is his third year reviewing for art[seen]. As a music student, ajayw takes great interest in reviewing the music events on campus, especially those brought in by UMS.

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