Vying Ensembles Strike a Dissonant Chord Orchestras Go to Court Over Inheritance

Two Israeli Orchestras contend they should be granted the money that Kurt Nassau left in his will to 'Israel Symphony Orchestra.'

Haggai Hitron
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Haggai Hitron

Two Israeli orchestras will be crossing batons over which one is to receive the estimated $700,000 estate willed by an Austrian-born gem researcher who worked at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey.

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeZion both contend that they should be granted the money that Kurt Nassau left in his will to the "Israel Symphony Orchestra," even though - as the executor of Nassau's estate discovered - there is no orchestra in Israel with that precise name.

Israel Philharmonic OrchestraCredit: Ofer Vaknin

The New Jersey Supreme Court has ordered that both institutions be informed of the will. It will hear the case on December 15, nearly a year after Nassau's death at 83.

Jacob Katz, the lawyer for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, says friends of Kurt Nassau and his wife Julia, who predeceased him, have signed statements saying the couple "did not know of any other orchestra."

Katz said during the period when the couple would likely have encountered an Israeli orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic - which has performed multiple times in New Jersey and New York - was the only one in existence.

Katz estimated that the institution that gets the money would receive no more than $500,000 net.

Ofir Argaman, who represents the Rishon Letzion orchestra, said it was "clear" that "the wording in the will, which refers to a 'symphony orchestra,' not a 'philharmonic,' is close to the official name of the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeZion."

He said the U.S. lawyer who will represent the symphony orchestra in the New Jersey Supreme Court has found that Kurt Nassau had a link to Rishon Letzion.

Nassau was born in Vienna in 1927. He escaped to England as a child and studied chemistry there. That was also where he met his wife, who had fled to England from Hungary.

Nassau earned a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh, and joined Bell Laboratories in 1959, where he earned a world-wide reputation for his research in crystal growth and structure and became a leading expert in mineralogy and the field of colors in crystals, according to an obituary in his local New Jersey newspaper.

The Nassaus had no children. They left some money to friends and neighbors, but most of the estate was left to the "Israel Symphony Orchestra." Now it's up to the New Jersey Supreme Court to figure out what exactly that is.

Shlomo Shamir contributed reporting from New York.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: הפילהרמונית והסימפונית במאבק על ירושה

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