Saturday, October 6, 2012

IPO founder Bronislaw Huberman honored

Bronislaw Huberman (1882-1947) was born in Czestochowa, Poland and began to play the violin at age six. Within a year he had given his first public performance, playing Spohr’s Violin Concerto no.2. In 1892, the family moved to Germany to enable the boy to study with Joseph Joachim in Berlin. Joachim, tired of child prodigies, was unwilling to accept the young violinist, but, on hearing him play a Chopin Nocturne, rapidly changed his mind. After a concert performed by the 10-year-old, Anton Rubinstein wrote: “Only a genius plays like that”. Following lessons with other teachers, Huberman, by age 11, decided to be his own tutor, claiming the best teacher to be “the many-headed Hydra, the public”. Performing to an ecstatic audience at the farewell concert of the great singer Adelina Patti, Huberman’s future was secured. Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria, presented him with the money to buy a valuable violin. In 1896, Huberman’s concerts in Vienna were attended by such great names as Gustav Mahler, Anton Bruckner, Johann Strauss and Brahms; the latter, on hearing the violinist perform his violin concerto, was moved to tears. Huberman made his American debut at Carnegie Hall in 1896, with a New York critic referring to his “splendid sonority of his tone, a tone rough and impure, but very noble in its majestic breadth.”  By now, Huberman’s trademark style was present – his individuality, his flair and depth of interpretation. His Russian tour of 1897-98 was no less successful. On tour in Italy in 1903, Huberman was only the second violinist to be given the honor of playing a concert on Paganini’s Guarnerius violin.

The catastrophe of the First World War caused Huberman to become interested in politics; he became convinced that the issue of peace was inseparable from the problem of political unification. Tours to America resumed in 1921; he performed with Richard Strauss and other artists, also making recordings. In 1924, Huberman published a book “My Road to Pan-Europa” on the role model America provided for economic- and political integration, then continuing his political activities on his return to Europe in 1925. Huberman visited Palestine in 1929.  He saw himself as an internationalist, felt more European than Jewish and was somewhat anti-Zionist, but the atmosphere in Palestine changed his attitude. By the time he visited Palestine again, in 1931, he had formed a vision of creating a Palestine Symphony Orchestra. He now began to see the project as also helping employ Jewish orchestral players who had been left jobless. In January 1934 Huberman’s proposal for the orchestra was accepted and local committees were set up in Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv to collect donations, organize subscriptions and act as advisory groups. However, back in Europe, despite the fact that his concerts were all sold out months in advance, Huberman’s political outspokenness was gaining him notoriety. In 1935, Huberman asked Arturo Toscanini to conduct the opening concert of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra. Toscanini, a well-known anti-fascist, agreed, viewing the orchestra of “émigrés” as a powerful anti-Nazi statement. The violinist declined Toscanini’s invitation to be soloist at the opening concert. Huberman had established the “Association of Friends of the Palestine Orchestra” in the USA, with Albert Einstein, himself a German exile, as chairman. To make up the orchestra, Huberman had chosen sixty or more first class players, all from renowned European orchestras. With the help of the Workers’ Branch of the Palestine Orchestra Association, two subscription concerts were planned for each city, the second intended for workmen, with tickets costing a fifth of the regular ticket price. On December 26th 1936, Toscanini conducted the orchestra’s inaugural concert in Tel Aviv. By 1939, the PSO had played under the batons of Toscanini, Sargent, Dobrowen, Szenkar, Taube and Horenstein. The languages spoken by orchestral members were German, Polish, Hungarian and Russian, with Hebrew only spoken by younger players. In 1940, Huberman soloed with the PSO in Palestine and Egypt. When the State of Israel was born, the orchestra’s name was changed to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Bronislaw Huberman died June 16th 1947 at his home near Lake Geneva, Switzerland.

The Polish city of Czestochowa is renaming its orchestra in honor of Bronislaw Huberman, in recognition of the fact that he had saved hundreds of Jews from the Holocaust and of his founding of what is today the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. The official concert on October 3rd 2012 in the town of his birth was a reminder of the important role the Jewish community had played in Polish cultural life prior to its disappearance in the Holocaust; Czestochowa had had a community of 40,000 Jews. Symbolically, the newly rebuilt Philharmonic Hall occupies the former site of the synagogue destroyed by the Nazis. The orchestra’s director Ireneusz Kozera has referred to Huberman as a “wonderful violinist and a humanist” who will be remembered all the more with the orchestra now bearing his name.

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