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Orchestra's New Jewish Director

orchestra-4 The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra with Kirill Petrenko, their newly-appointed Jewish musical director (Photo: Stefan Höderath)
Berlin Philharmonic has Jewish director ... and they're heading to Israel!

 The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, generally acknowledged as one of the premier ensembles in the world, is scheduled to give three concerts in Israel.Their first appearance in Israel in 1990 represented the coming to terms with the past, as well as the further rapprochement and strengthening of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel.The 1993 visit commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.Their forthcoming appearance marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp and the end of the Second World War.

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra’s musical director Kirill Petrenko (Photo: Chris Christodoulou)

The orchestra was founded in 1882 as an independent, self-governing musical association.Throughout its history it has had only ten musical directors, the vast majority of whom were first-rank superb conductors and outstanding musicians.From 1954 to 1989, it was led by the charismatic mercurial Herbert von Karajan. He had an unsavory past and voluntarily joined the Nazi party as early as 1935.After his resignation, it was led by the genial, internationally well-beloved Italian, Claudio Abbado. When illness forced him to resign in 2002, his place was taken by Simon Rattle, the British wunderkind and magnetic global media star.

In 2015, Simon Rattle announced his intention of resigning his position as music director.The orchestra convened a secret meeting, a process akin to a Vatican conclave, which elects a new pope.They considered numerous candidates to fulfill the position of chief conductor, but this first ballot was inconclusive.Six weeks later, another private meeting was held and by a large majority, the orchestra elected the relatively unknown Kirill Petrenko as their next artistic director and chief conductor.This is without question one of the most prestigious positions in the musical world. Petrenko thus joins a worthy pantheon including some of the greatest maestros of all time.It is of interest that he had only performed with the orchestra on three previous occasions, but apparently, these performances won the orchestra members over.

Kirill Petrenko was born in Omsk in Siberia in 1972 to musical Jewish parents.He left Russia together with his family at the age of 18 for Austria, where his violinist father found employment with a provincial orchestra.Petrenko studied conducting in Vienna.He subsequently worked at the Volksoper and was music director at the Komische Opera in Berlin from 2002 to 2007.In 2013, he was appointed music director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich.Within a short time, he invigorated the company to the extent that Munich is generally recognized today as the most exciting venue in the world for opera.

It is amazing how rapidly times change.Seventy-five years after the fall of the Third Reich, four Jews, the opera director Barrie Kosky, and the conductors Daniel Barenboim, Ivan Fischer, and now Kirill Petrenko, direct the most prominent opera ensembles and orchestras in the German capital.However, even today, anti-Semitism remains a potent force in Germany, as it unfortunately does elsewhere in Europe and indeed in the rest of the world.The appointment of a Russian Jew as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic did not come without controversy and immediately after the press announcement was made, Petrenko was assailed with anti-Semitic comments in several German newspapers.

Throughout its disastrous and murderous history, the Third Reich actively supported the Berlin Philharmonic, or the "Reichsorchester" as it was known.All the ensemble's Jewish musicians, including their renowned concertmaster Szymon Goldberg, were fired soon after the Nazis assumed power.The orchestra served as Nazi Germany's cultural showpiece and was under the patronage of the notorious Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels.The orchestra toured internationally, performed at the Nuremberg Rallies, the opening of the 1936 Olympic Games and Hitler's birthday celebrations.

Kirill Petrenko remains much of an enigma.Outwardly, he appears shy, very private and reserved.No details are known of his personal life.Unlike his eminent predecessors, he does not grant interviews to the press. "I prefer", he once said, "to speak through my work on the podium." He rarely and only reluctantly releases recordings.

Orchestral members, however, are completely devoted and adore him.This also applies to audiences.At his opera performances, he often receives more ovations than the singers.Although still in the honeymoon phase, his relationship with musicians in the Berlin Philharmonic has been described as a "marriage made in heaven".He is regarded by many as the "musician's musician", and is without a doubt, one of the most gifted conductors of his generation.

Petrenko restricts his guest conducting commitments to a few choice orchestras.The Israeli concert-going public is most fortunate in that he frequently visits Israel to conduct the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.It is rumored that he has relatives living in Israel.Enter your text here ...

Performances will feature Mahler and Bruch works

The Berlin Philharmonic performances in Israel will take place from May 1 to May 3.Two concerts are scheduled at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv and one at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem.Much of their program will be devoted to the conductor and composer, Gustav Mahler.Mahler was also born Jewish but unlike Petrenko he converted to Catholicism to secure the position of director of the Vienna State Opera.

The orchestra will perform Mahler's sixth Symphony (in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv), as well as his fourth Symphony and Rückert Lieder (Songs of Rückert).Also included is a performance of Max Bruch's Kol Nidrei.The soloist will be the Israeli, Amihai Grosz, who has been the first principal violist of the Berlin Philharmonic since 2010.Other soloists include the contralto Elisabeth Kulman and the soprano Christiane Karg.

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