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Perfection at the Philharmonic


On a recent car journey, my husband Dan and I were listening to a Cleo Laine and James Galway album. Dan recalled Cleo Laine's standout performance at Heichal Hatarbut (the Charles Bronfman Auditorium) in Tel Aviv, which led to a discussion about other memorable concerts we'd heard there.

This mention of Heichal Hatarbut – the largest concert hall in Israel and the home to the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra - threw me back to what I can only call complete and utter Perfection. That most sought-after state of being and doing which many insist doesn't exist.

But I had seen it with my own eyes - albeit on a black and white television at a home in Savion that a friend was looking after. Never would I forget the stunning performance I witnessed right in front of me.

The presentation was the background for the anticipated arrival in the country of the most unique, exotic figure I had seen in my young life.

I was only 19, serving in the Israeli Army in the Sinai frontier settlement of Nachal Yam, and new to the country. There was much I had not yet seen or experienced. But I believed in perfection - that it is attainable and should be striven for.

And here this young, charismatic Brahmin Indian man was conducting music to the absolutely nth degree of perfection. I was enthralled and mesmerized. Nothing else in my surroundings existed for me while watching and witnessing this living proof that perfection existed. I was transfixed by its revelation.

These images stayed with me as I continued with my army duties. There was no way of reaching or touching them, however, and they became a beam of light in my memory.

One spring afternoon, I was walking along the Dizengoff promenade when I saw a round announcement kiosk displaying a black and white poster with his picture. He was coming to perform. My heart pounded. He had jumped from the foreign television program to a real paper poster right in front of me. Almost touchable.

A few weeks later, walking past the Philharmonic building on a sunny afternoon, I heard orchestral sounds spilling out onto the sidewalk. I stopped and turned, looking for the source of the music. Through a barred basement window, I saw an ensemble of musicians, mainly violinists, rehearsing. One of them noticed me and invited me in. He was old and small and I was young and blonde. He motioned with his body gestures to go around the side and meet him at the stage entrance.

When we met, he told me he played second violin and I told him my dream was to see Perfection. He said, "How fortunate; he is playing tonight. Come and I will let you in to see him from a front row. I could not believe my ears or contain my joy.

Yet, as a poor lone soldier, I had no outfit suitable for such a grand occasion. How could I go without suitable clothes?

Locating the nearest bus to the central bus station, I passed store upon store until a corner shop with steps leading up had the perfect solution: a black A-line empire waist dress with a silver white trim under the bust line. Because I was a soldier, the shopkeeper let me have it at a price I could afford. I was delighted, but it was too long and needed to be shortened to mini length. I hurried back to my quarters and sewed huge, clumsy stitches to create a shorter hem. Armed with my best attire and combing back my golden hair, I presented myself at the Philharmonic.

My sweet, kind, cautiously optimistic violin player was waiting excitedly for me. "I have the best seat in the house for you - in the middle of the second row - since the composer, Ami Maayani, will not be attending."

After quickly finding the marvelous, godsend of a seat and barely catching my breath, Perfection entered and crossed the stage to take the podium.

With a short bow to the public, he turned on his heels, took up a baton and raised his hand, nodding to the orchestra. In the moments that passed, I was transported to a realm of heaven on earth. Not because of the music, but by his perfect execution with every flick of his hand, turn of his head, swaying of his back in perfect harmony with the players and the notes. In alignment with every tone, chord, sound and movement, his entire body played the work from every single fiber, muscle and tendon, which radiated the work to us.

I was enthralled. The reality matched the dream and the anticipation. Perfectly. Never before had I experienced anything like this. It was real; it existed and could never be denied. I was fulfilled.

After the performance, I mustered all my courage to seek him out backstage. After everyone had left and the halls were empty, a door suddenly opened and framed his silhouette. His heels echoed on the marble floor as he saw me and walked towards me.

I stood opposite him and cautiously ventured forward, my knees shaking. He came up to me and I could not halt my torrent of babble, thanking him for allowing me to experience Perfection.

Zubin Mehta looked kindly into my eyes, thanked me warmly and kissed my hand.

I didn't wash it for a week. 

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