Soundbox / Painful decrescendo
The Herzliya municipality insists its chamber orchestra, which has been shut down, will play again. But is this just a classic move that will wipe out classical music?
Around two months ago, far from the eye of the public and very quietly, an unprecedented thing happened in Israel: A veteran symphony orchestra was wiped out overnight and with it the entire musical culture of a city.
The Herzliya Chamber Orchestra, which had expanded over the last decade to include more musicians and broadened its repertoire, becoming a symphony orchestra, was shut down in one fell swoop by its owners, the Herzliya municipality.
Subscribers were notified gradually. First, in March they received a personal letter from the orchestra's devoted founder and musical director, conductor Harvey Bordowitz, notifying them of his departure. Meanwhile, the perceptive among them noticed that the program for the upcoming season, which is mailed each year before the end of the present season, never showed up.
And at the last concert of the season, Bordowitz announced from the stage that to the best of his knowledge, the orchestra would cease to operate.
That is actually how the 1,000 people who patronize the orchestra were informed of the orchestra's demise.
The first home of the small orchestra founded by Bordowitz 31 years ago was an auditorium in the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, which was clearly not suited for concerts. Thanks primarily to his passion and determination, the orchestra persevered: It moved a number of times, among them to an even less appropriate venue in the city's Daniel Hotel. When the Herzliya Performing Arts Center was inaugurated in 2003, Bordowitz managed with his uncompromising skills to make its hall the orchestra's permanent home.
Since then the Herzliya Chamber Orchestra has thrived, composed of 19 permanent musicians plus another 30 freelancers. Major Israeli soloists performed with it: This year, for example, it hosted singer Ines Masalha, pianist Revital Hachamov, pianist Roman Rabinowitz and guest conductor Yi-An Xu. The ensemble's repertoire, as evident from its YouTube recordings, has grown and become refined over the years, featuring Israeli works and contemporary music, and the number of subscribers and listeners grew: The symphony had 650 subscribers this year and together with ticket purchasers the audience totaled over 1,000 people per concert.
Brooklyn-born Bordowitz his training in conducting and musicology in New York. His Anglo roots and his home near Netanya also helped attract a very unique audience for the orchestra - native English speakers who are residents of the Sharon region. Accordingly, Bordowitz alternated giving explanatory remarks in English and Hebrew.
"Thirty minutes before each concert, I gave a lecture about the music the audience was about to hear," he explains in a recent conversation. "There was a total of more than 170 lectures over the years."
Thousands of people were lucky to hear the learned talks by the conductor six times a year. In addition to the regular concert series, there was a social-educational dimension to the orchestra's activities that resonated in the greater community, in the form of performances before kindergartens and schools, and in free concerts at the Seven Stars Mall in Herzliya.
But earlier this year, Bordowitz decided to leave. "After 31 years, I felt the time had come," he says. "Managing this orchestra meant a fight from one season to the next, and over time it's not easy. We reached a point where we had new plans every season, unusual ones, a large audience with a family-like atmosphere and good soloists. The orchestra was established: It became a force to reckon with in the city, and it grew and improved. This was the time to hand over the baton to the next person. I notified the mayor in February and said I was willing to help find a replacement. And then in June came the announcement of the closure."
'For one season'
"Harvey left and we didn't find a replacement," is how the Herzliya municipality explains the orchestra's closure, via spokeswoman Dorit Basman-Koval. "Officially, it's a halt in operations for one season, the coming season, and during that time we will consider an alternative, a different format for the orchestra to function in. It's not that there isn't any classical music in Herzliya - there is a lot, for example, the free classical concert series we have in the summer for the general public, which attracts thousands of people."
A source in the spokeswoman's office told Haaretz, however, that no announcement was sent out stating that the orchestra is looking for a replacement for Bordowitz.
Reading between the lines here, one sees how culture is destroyed: After all Israel has dozens of distinguished candidates who conduct and manage an orchestra like the Herzliya Chamber Orchestra. It's hard to even count them because there are so many - men and women conductors and musicians, with vast experience and tremendous capabilities. So the fact that they didn't find someone suitable among them for the ensemble means there was no real search - indeed, no one even heard a call for applicants to fill the position of leading and conducting this orchestra, even for a temporary period.
Ceasing operations for one season? It is hard to imagine a more outlandish way of covering up the closure of an orchestra; there's never been a comeback by an orchestra that was closed. Closing an orchestra means eliminating it. As for the abundance of classical music in Herzliya, the city does indeed hold a series of concerts in the park, under the musical direction of and conducted by Gil Shohat, and this is an admirable and fine endeavor, but it has nothing to do with ongoing local, musical culture. Classical music does not just mean notes, but rather the context in which it is played, the focus of the group that's performing, the concentration, the hard work over many years that is needed to achieve the desired result, the tradition, the perseverance.
"It is hard to create, build and nurture [such a culture] over the long term, but how easy it is to destroy it," says Bordowitz - and how right he is.
In response to a query, the Herzliya municipality spokeswoman says this step is not being taken lightly: It is not an impetuous decision, she says, noting that such decisions are the province of the city's culture department and the municipal culture association, and are carefully considered.
Efforts by Haaretz to speak with Herzliya Mayor Yael German were unsuccessful. German is known as a classical music fan and even attended the Herzliya Chamber Orchestra's concerts, but apparently it was beyond her power to fight the municipal culture department and the cultural association.
Herzliya appears to be trying to pull a fast one on everyone: first and foremost, local residents who, because of one hasty and vague decision are being deprived of the right to listen to music, and also the orchestra's musicians who, even though participating in such a well-established ensemble, have now lost their jobs.
'Combine and rule'
Harvey Bordowitz got angry when his orchestra was described as "community-oriented" - but it is the truth. This does not necessarily mean minor, peripheral and amateur, but rather influential in terms of contribution to the local culture of a community.
In Israel there are several other such classical orchestras that draw audiences longing for music, who can allow themselves the luxury of paying reasonable prices to see concerts close to home: the Ramat Gan Chamber Orchestra, the Ashdod Orchestra, and to a large extent the Be'er Sheva Sinfonietta as well the Israel Chamber Orchestra, based in central Tel Aviv. Such ensembles are the embodiment of a person's basic right to hear music as he chooses, they have artistic value and promote social values: All of them offer interesting programs and conducting and playing on a high level.
The institutional approach of "combine and rule" which is seeking to unite orchestras and to hold on only to the ones that are deemed the best so as to cope with dwindling budgets - this is part of the process of destroying culture, not a contribution to its development. The Herzliya municipality with its quick trigger finger has now joined in this process against communal music.