Stick to the Sound of Truth

The Mann Auditorium needs to be renovated and brought up to modern standards, mainly due to an abominable neglect by the building's management and its main tenant, the IPO.

Just as I was easing myself into the seat at the Mann Auditorium, looking forward to a performance of Bach's Magnificat and Mozart's Requiem with soloist, the Stuttgart Bach Choir and the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Helmut Rilling, I noticed on the armrest of my seat an unaddressed white envelope. As such envelopes were on all the armrests, I opened it, and found a letter addressed to "Dear subscribers."

Although I'm a journalist, I'm not in the habit of reading letters that are not addressed to me, let alone answering them. I'm not a subscriber; I requested and received my ticket from the orchestra's PR department, and I'm deeply grateful. However, as the letter was already opened I could not help but see that it was entitled "Mann Auditorium - the difference between a monument and a culture center." As it seemed to me at a cursory glance that the letter said, "In recent months you witnessed the public debate about the plans to refurbish and renovate the Mann auditorium," I read the whole missive.

Normally I would not have bothered the readers with details of a private correspondence, had it not seemed to me that the IPO management, in addressing its subscribers about the public debate, is - to put it mildly - giving the truth a rather wide berth.

"The magnificent building that hosted the best of orchestras and artists grows old. You, our faithful audience, do not mind the whims of the air-conditioning system, the creaking noises of the stage boards, the narrow seats, the public toilets and the refreshment stalls, which leave a lot to be desired, and that is an understatement." The renovations are supposed to solve all these problems, and bring the auditorium within the demands of safety requirements.

But most of those things are a direct result of a long-term neglect by the IPO and the management of the Mann Auditorium. One does not have to be handicapped like me in order to trip on the threshold of the auditorium door, to the left of the stage. And that has nothing to do with the debate about the proposed renovation project.

The IPO management informs the subscribers that many concert auditoriums all over the world have undergone refurbishments recently, and that the main bulk of the cost will be underwritten by donors and friends of the orchestra worldwide. It does not inform them in the letter (although those details are spelled out at the IPO web site, at that the total cost of the project is estimated to be $40 million, 25 percent of which (about NIS 45 million) will be forked out by Tel Aviv municipality taxpayers. The "dear subscribers" should be apprised of those details.

"Those opposing the renovation project are mostly architects and conservationists. There is no doubt that those are weighty issues, but is Mann Auditorium a monument only? Is it made only of stones, concrete and glass?" the IPO management asks, rhetorically. I'm not an architect or conservationist, but I can tell the subscribers that the Mann Auditorium is also its unique fan shape, which is about to change radically. And no one opposes a renovation project. The public debate is about the specific plans and changes proposed by the orchestra and the municipality, which, if executed, will alter the auditorium and the outer shape of the building drastically, and not "negligibly," as said on the IPO site.

"Without renovating the auditorium the orchestra has to compromise, in the long term, on the quality of its sound. ... Without the renovations and bringing the auditorium up to the modern day standards, there will be a decline in the quality of the musical experience, and the young audience we try so hard to capture will desert us." Nowhere in the letter or the site is the word "acoustics" mentioned, but it reverberated strongly in the public debate. Those are the "modern day standards." There are no acoustic standards. There are no absolutes here, and it is a matter of taste and fashion. It would be best to build a modular auditorium that would be adaptable to standards of ever-changing tastes and fashions. And the symphonic sound has nothing to do with enticing young audiences to attend the IPO concerts.

The letter's final paragraphs are unveiled threats. "We do not want to abandon the Mann Auditorium. ... In the current season [the IPO's 70th] we will continue to perform in the Mann Auditorium." If the orchestra and the municipality are unable to perform the renovation project according to their wishes, "Instead of a live cultural center the Mann Auditorium will be a cultural desert" (the words are in bold letters in the original). In other words: Either you let us do whatever we want with the auditorium, the way we want, or we will play somewhere else (Where? And who will foot this bill?), and leave all of you stranded in the cultural desert. Beware!

The Mann Auditorium needs to be renovated and brought up to modern standards, mainly due to an abominable neglect by the building's management and its main tenant, the IPO. In order to do so, the orchestra should stick to the sound of truth.

The concert itself, by the way, was outstanding.