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ASO plays U.S. premieres by Israeli composers on May 31

names of those who built the State of Israel are legendary, but those who
forged its cultural voice played a vital role in communicating the new country’s
identity. The American Symphony Orchestra presentspremieres by three of Israel’s
European-born musical patriarchs – Paul Ben-Haim, Ödön Pártos, and Mordecai
Seter – and a rarely-heard symphony by Josef Tal.  All composed within a decade of the founding of the State of
Israel, the four works will be performed during the final ASO concert of the
season, “Composing a Nation: Israel’s Musical Patriarchs,” at Avery Fisher Hall on Sunday,
May 31

at 3 pm, conducted by ASO music director Leon Botstein. Maestro Botstein will also give an
informative free pre-concert lecture in the hall at 1:45 pm.

program note lays out an enlightening historical background for this concert: 

“The new Israelis had the Bible and
the story of the ancient kingdom of Israel, but when they arrived from their
European towns and villages to the Middle Eastern landscape and encountered
indigenous populations both Jewish and Arab with whom they were entirely
unfamiliar, these newly minted citizens realized they had to construct a new
unifying national sensibility. …

“Amazingly, a tremendous portion of
this effort at national self-invention was assigned to the arts.  [Theodor] Herzl’s dream of the new
state as one of high culture was embraced by the Zionist pioneers. The creation
of orchestras, dance and theater companies was considered an essential act of
national self-assertion.”

four of the featured composers were thoroughly assimilated Europeans when they
took up residence in their new homeland. 
Three had arrived in middle-eastern Israel as refugees from the Nazis.  “Ödön Pártos, Paul Ben-Haim and Josef
Tal brought with them a deep familiarity and attachment to the modern European
vocabulary of musical expression,” explains Botstein in the program notes.  Ödön Pártos was Hungarian; Paul
Ben-Haim and Josef Tal were both German. The fourth, Mordecai Seter, was born
in Russia, and was the first of the four to arrive in Palestine, in 1926, at
the age of ten, and more likely escaping the newish Soviet Army than the
burgeoning Nazi movement to Russia’s west.  When still in his teens, Seter left for Europe to study with
Paul Dukas and Nadia Boulanger in Paris, returning only in 1937 after
completing his studies.

the youngest of these four, became a professor at the Rubin Academy at Tel Aviv
University, where one of his important pupils was conductor Gary Bertini
(1927-2005). Bertini was a first-rate advocate for Israeli music throughout the
world and conducted many of Seter’s works. Seter’s Midnight Vigil (tikun hatzot) began life as an
orchestral work, and became – after four revisions – an oratorio for soloist
and three choruses based on ancient Yemenite song texts.  The ASO is performing an instrumental version
published in 1958 as Op. 39a.  The tikun originated as a
late-night public Bible study associated with good works.  According to Yuval Shaked of Haifa University,
who contributed a program note for this U.S. premiere performance:

“The first version of Seter’s
Midnight Vigil
completed in 1957, written for oboe, trumpet, harp, percussion and unison
singing of Jewish Yemenite traditional songs. …  Portraying a kabbalistic vision of redemption in Zion, it is
among the first explicit manifestations of a mystic aspect characterizing
Seter’s oeuvre which later gained an ever increasing significance. The work is
imbued with renaissance aesthetic ideals and musical forms, which Seter
considered optimal to ensure the East-West synthesis he aimed at.”

was a prolific composer; he wrote a half-dozen operas, several
concertos, three symphonies, and dozens of other works – including many for
tape.  Born Joseph Grünthal in
Pinne (now Poland), he moved as an infant with his family to Berlin, where he
earned a degree from Berlin’s Hochschule für Musik and studied music formally
with Paul Hindemith, among others He left for Palestine soon after the Nazi
takeover of Germany. 

in Palestine in 1934, he worked first as a member of Kibbutz Gesher, and then at
the Jerusalem Conservatory (which later became the Israel Academy of Music), of
which he was director for several years. 
He eventually became the first chairman of the musicology department at
Hebrew University and became involved in its electronic music center.  The Second Symphony, written in 1960, was performed
by the Israel Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall in 1972, and described by a New
York Times
critic as “a ‘sound’ piece, more effective for its sonorities,
percussive rhythms and color than for its formalism … Its impulses, probably
unconscious, actually go back to Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring.’ This is no
mean ancestor”. 


was born in 1907 in Budapest. He was a violin prodigy who studied early with
Kodály, and reached Palestine in 1938 as a young man leaving behind a busy
career in Europe as a soloist, teacher and chamber musician. He came to the attention of the great Hungarian violinist and
composer Jenö Hubay (1858-1937), and studied
with him before moving on to the Budapest Academy of Music.   Born in 1907, he had an active
performing and composing career throughout Europe before being forced to leave
for Palestine relatively late, in 1937 (the Nazis did not invade Hungary until
1944).  Pártos visited the Kibbutz called Ein Gev as early as 1943, played concerts in its dining hall, and
returned several times. In a program note for this U.S. premiere by the ASO, Yuval
Shaked writes:

“Feeling connected to the Kibbutz, Pártos decided to compose a piece bearing its name.
He wished to pay tribute to the perseverance and heroism of the embattled
settlers. Written in 1951-52, Partos’ Symphonic Fantasy Ein Gev remained his only program music
piece. It depicts laying the fundaments for the Kibbutz as an outpost on the
edge of the Syrian border, its growth, life, and fight for existence.”

Pártos didn’t write a lot of program music, Shaked states that he composed “a Symphonic
Elegy entitled Paths (Netivim),
which uses the Ein Gev motif as a starting point.”

(1897-1984), the eldest of the composers on this
program, was born in Munich as Paul Frankenburger. A rigorous German music
education prepared him for a successful career as a composer; he was conductor
of the Augsburg opera until an anti-Semitic boss fired him in 1931, a full 18
months before the Nazis seized power. 
He went to Palestine in autumn 1933. Before being forced out of Germany,
Ben-Haim studied composition and conducting in Munich with Friedrich Klose and
Walter Courvoisier. He and Josef Tal are the only composers on the ASO program
who have works currently available on recordings; in fact, Ben-Haim’s discography
is quite large, in several genres. Ben-Haim’s Symphony No. 2 is also receiving its U.S. premiere
on May 31.  His second symphony is
quite different from his first. As essayist Jehoash Hirshberg notes in the

“Symphony No. 1 starts with a
painful expression of the despair in view of Hitler’s monumental victories and
moves to an optimistic hope for a better world.  By contrast, Symphony No. 2 was completed in October 1945
when World War II was over.  On the
title page of the autograph Ben-Haim wrote a motto from a poem by Israeli poet
Sh. Shalom, “Wake up with the dawn, O my soul, on the peak of the Carmel
above the sea
The poetic motto sets the post-war idyllic world which dominates most of
the symphony, save for the third movement.”

May 31, 3 pm

“Composing a Nation: Israel’s Musical Patriarchs”

Botstein conducts the American Symphony Orchestra

Fisher Hall   

Seter (1916-1994)

Midnight Vigil, Op. 39a (1958) U.S.

Tal (1910-2008)

Symphony No. 2 (1960)

Pártos (1907-1977)

Ein gev, Symphonic Fantasy (1952) U.S. Premiere

Ben-Haim (1897-1984)

Symphony No. 2 (1945) U.S. Premiere

start at just $28; call (212) 868-9ASO (9276).  Group discounts available.  All ticket sales are final.

Botstein will give an illuminating pre-concert talk at 1:45 pm in the
auditorium of Avery Fisher Hall, free to ticket-holders.

more about this concert and the 2009-10 season at or from
(212) 868-9ASO (9276).

American Symphony Orchestra’s 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons and programs are made
possible, in part, by support from National Endowment for the Arts, New York
State Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs,
and Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer.  Major support is provided by The Winston Foundation, The
Faith Golding Foundation, and the Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation.  Additional support is provided by the
Dubose and Dorothy Heyward Memorial Trust, Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation,
HBO, The Gatewood Foundation, The Edith C. Blum Foundation, the Mary Duke
Biddle Foundation, and the Solon E. Summerfield Foundation.

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