The World of Music Comes to Be'er Sheva

Having narrowly escaped financial collapse, the rejuvenated Israel Sinfonietta is hosting top German choir and performing Irish, Cuban, klezmer and contemporary Israeli music.

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When in 1936 Arturo Toscanini first lowered his baton on the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra - the "Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra" at the time - the sound of a single instrument was heard. The first work at the first concert was Carl Maria von Weber's "Oberon" overture, which begins with the sound of a French horn - a delicate, slow call consisting of three notes. The person who played those historic notes was the orchestra's principal horn player, Horst Salomon. "A great horn player whose sound is a subject of discussion to this day, and whose picture hangs in the large factory for French horns in Germany; he was a student of Paul Hindemith, played in the Jewish Kulturbund, but was also a wrestler and a muscular man with the first Harley Davidson motorcycle in Israel, a kind of combination of Tarzan and Goethe," is how his son, Doron Salomon, describes him.

The younger Salomon, whose mother was also a musician, is carrying on the tradition, and he too is now about to conduct an orchestra: the Israel Sinfonietta Be'er Sheva, where he is the musical director. (October 13 and October 15 at the Be'er Sheva Center for the Performing Arts; October 17 at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art).

Salomon took over the orchestra in 2005 when it was almost bankrupt, in financial collapse - an orchestra in the southern city, without a musical director, without a home concert hall worthy of the name, suffering from deficits and budgetary strangulation, but talented and enthusiastic and waiting to grow. He accepted the job after eight years as a musical director in Germany, "where the concerts are a subject of debate among taxi drivers, and the clerks in the hotel ask you why you took the Brahms so fast," as he said in an interview with Haaretz during his first year with the Sinfonietta.

He invited the musicians on an adventure, and has turned the Be'er Sheva Sinfonietta into a likable chamber orchestra with a lovely sound, a lively and enthusiastic presence on the stage and the ability to attract an audience.

"During these seven years in which I have been the musical director and Ofer Sela the general director, the Sinfonietta has had the largest number of subscribers in its history - we've passed the 3,000 mark," says Salomon. "When Ofer and I arrived, the audience was steadily diminishing, there was no money, the orchestra was on the edge of an abyss. And now we are able to bring a choir from Germany for our opening concert of the season. I pinch myself in order to believe it. Today, even in Germany collaboration with this choir is considered an achievement."

Battles over Israeli music

The 60 members of the Wuppertal Choir will join the orchestra and the soloists - Hila Baggio, Shira Tal, Noah Briger and Nimrod Grinboim - to perform Mendelssohn's oratorio "Elijah." It really is a festive and suitable opening to a season that will also include a Mozart evening with conductor and pianist Justus Frantz, a Baroque evening with Shalev Ad-El, concerts including works by Brahms, Haydn, Stravinsky and Kodai, violinist Anna Tifu with Mendelssohn's concerto, and two particularly festive events to mark the orchestra's 40th season. The first - a Beethoven festival, during which all the symphonies will be played in four days; the second - "The Barber of Seville," Rossini's favorite opera, with full staging.

"We have an orchestra pit and therefore we can stage the opera in full," says Salomon, "and it will already be the second one after 'The Marriage of Figaro' last season."

He is aware of the conservative nature of the repertory of the Sinfonietta's concerts. "We wage daily battles over contemporary Israeli music. Everyone who shows me a work, I want to perform it. That's why we have a composer in residence, Uri Brener, and an 'honorary composer,' Michael Wolpe."

At the subscription concerts the orchestra will also be playing a work by Israeli Josef Bardanshvili, and he is saving his "weird musical loves," as Salomon puts it, for a world music series, the sort of project Salomon comes to naturally. "I studied classical music in London, Arab music at Bar Ilan University, from my daughter I learned rock, jazz is part of my world, as is Brazilian music. Among other things I used to be the guitar accompanist of singer Astrud Gilberto," he says.

Accordingly, the series "Music From Around the World" will present Yoni Rechter in an evening of his songs, including a new work that he composed, as well as Irish music, klezmer, and "an earthquake," says Salomon proudly. "At a debut performance we will perform the Guitar Concerto No. 2 by John McLaughlin, with Italian guitarist Aniello Desiderio." A Cuban evening is also on the schedule, Salomon notes: "In New York today the most popular musicians are Cubans and Israelis, and next season we will offer a concert with a Cuban pianist."

"Be'er Sheva is undergoing major upheavals: construction, a change of face, a train that brings us close to the center, with a 55-minute trip," sums up Salomon, "and the orchestra - this year we're 40 years old and our audience is already experienced, and it knows and understands music in depth. We receive strong feedback from the audience, by e-mail and phone, and are aware of our listeners' solid opinions and their firm attitudes. They feel that this orchestra belongs to them, and that's a large part of our motivation."

Upcoming concerts: October 13 and October 15 at the Be'er Sheva Center for the Performing Arts; October 17 at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

Be’er Sheva Sinfonietta’s Doron Salomon.Credit: David Bachar