The Growing Tsunami

Another important cultural institution, a valuable resource for musicians since 1951, is in danger.

At Tel Aviv's Bialik Square stands one of the city's - and the entire country's - bastions of musical culture: the Felicja Blumental Music Center and Library. Like many cultural institutions the library has always operated under strained conditions - in desperate need of slots for librarians and archivists, dealing with an absence of budget for acquisitions and improvements, trying to find its way in a world that increasingly sees it as an alien element. But it has survived: a vibrant institution where people borrow books, scores and audio equipment under the direction of librarians who are certified musicians, and where it is also possible to conduct research in important archives like the Bronislaw Huberman Archive, a unique resource in the world.

Since its founding in 1951, the library has raised generations of musicians. Young people who devoured their first orchestrations there are now professors emeriti of music or well-known composers, and the cycle continues. Anyone who visits the library today will find young people discovering classical music for the first time as they move along, under the close instruction of the librarians.

Last week the warning lights began to flash and the alarm bells to ring: A petition circulated online warned that the library was in danger. From the most prominent musicians in Israel to everyday music lovers, about 1,800 people have signed the petition addressed to the Tel Aviv municipality - which funds the major part of the library - requesting that it refrain from cutting the library's personnel budget even more and thereby endangering its existence. This petition indicates an unfortunate trend: The library too has been marked. From the music center at the Diaspora Museum to the Andalusian Orchestra, from the Broadcast Authority's Voice of Music station to the Radio Orchestra - the tsunami that has been drowning one musical institution here after another, and is threatening still others, is only increasing in strength.

The process is frightening, but not surprising: When musical education in the schools is in danger of extinction, when conservatories are fighting for their existence and orchestras surviving only through miracles, the number of people who read music, play music and ultimately need the services of the musical library dwindles. Thus, the municipality and its director of the culture and art department, Avigdor Levin, someone who knows a thing or two about musical institutions, face two alternatives: Either dry up the library and close it down and use its personnel slots and budgets to fund other jobs, or adopt its excellent staff along with its unique artistic and intellectual infrastructure as a bridgehead for rehabilitating the city's musical culture. It's scary to guess which they will choose.