Philadelphia Orchestra to Tour Israel

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From left: Philadelphia Orchestra Interim Co-President Ryan Fleur; Mark Tykocinkski, provost of Thomas Jefferson University and dean of Sidney Kimmel Medical College; Joseph Neubauer; Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin; Constance Smukler; Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia President and CEO Naomi Adler; U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle; and Deputy Secretary, Office of International Business Development, PA Department of Community and Economic Development Joseph Burke | Photo by Will Figg / Philadelphia Orchestra

In honor of Israel’s 70th anniversary, The Philadelphia Orchestra is pairing up with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia for an upcoming tour of the Jewish state.

The tour begins in Europe on May 24 — with performances in Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany and Austria — ultimately leading to concerts in Israel beginning June 3. The concerts will be led by Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

The Israel portion will visit Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where the Orchestra will play its last performance June 5.

But while the music will be the crescendo of the tour, the trip will also give an opportunity for Jewish Federation supporters and Orchestra patrons to demonstrate their solidarity with Israel.

The Israel portion of the trip will start June 1 in Tel Aviv. Travelers will have the opportunity to meet with renowned leaders like President Reuven Rivlin, journalist Alon Ben-David and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huladi.

Patrons will attend the Orchestra’s performances and also tour alongside the musicians. Stops will include Jaffa, Jerusalem and Yad Vashem, and the trip will also feature a Michael Solomonov-curated culinary tour of the Negev and Jerusalem.

Trip-goers will have multiple opportunities to interact with orchestra members, since they will be staying in the same hotels and participating in several activities together.

The tour will be the second time the Orchestra has traveled to Israel; its initial visit was in 1992.

Ryan Fleur, the Orchestra’s interim co-president, said the orchestra is one of three major American orchestras to visit and perform in the Jewish state — including the New York Philharmonic and the Pittsburgh Symphony, which last performed there in 1996.

The Orchestra travels internationally each year to promote cultural diplomacy through music — a sponsorship through Team Pennsylvania — bringing different cultures together over a commonality.

“We try to connect in a really meaningful way in those places,” Fleur said, through master classes, pop-up concerts, panel discussions or meetings with local immigrant or refugee populations.

A large portion of the Orchestra’s audience is Jewish, and in the past it invited the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to Philadelphia for two of Israel’s anniversaries.

So, Fleur asked, “What do we do for Israel’s 70th?”

“Israel is important to us,” Fleur reiterated of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. “There are 44 companies that have investments in Israel that include 3,500 jobs that are here.

“The combination of those reasons just made it feel like it was the right next step to fulfill our mission, and also to deepen partnerships in Philadelphia.”

The trip is philanthropy-driven, and many sponsorships will go toward funding the 140 Orchestra members’ travel. The Israel portion is heavily sponsored by The Neubauer Family Foundation and Constance Smukler.

The Orchestra will perform some of Leonard Bernstein’s works in honor of his centennial, as well as Schumann, Strauss and Tchaikovsky.

Two musicians in the Philadelphia Orchestra are Israeli, but many others are not Jewish or have never been to Israel.

“We know that it’s really important to have not just Jews but non-Jews visiting Israel,” Fleur said, “and to be able to advocate for that.”

For those unable to follow the Orchestra, Philadelphians can listen at home when radio partner WRTI 90.1 FM will air three concerts — June 1 in Vienna, June 4 in Tel Aviv, and June 5 in Jerusalem.

The partnership was announced Feb. 13 atop the Kimmel Center’s Hamilton Garden, accompanied by a brief performance by those two Israeli musicians, Nitzan Haroz on trombone and Ohad Bar-David on cello.

Close to 50 people attended the announcement, including Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-District 13).

“This is one of the most important exports that we have as a city, The Philadelphia Orchestra,” he said. “When you can connect to people on a one-on-one basis, on a cultural link, on something that isn’t about geopolitics — that is meaningful.”

“Traveling and touring as an orchestra is a big enterprise,” Nézet-Séguin echoed. “But it’s always important to remember why we do this. We do this because we believe that sharing is at the core of music, and sharing means sharing your own cultural backgrounds, sharing your own beliefs. … This is, in a nutshell, what music is all about.”

Joseph Burke, deputy secretary in the Office of International Business Development for the state Department of Community and Economic Development, added the Orchestra is one of Pennsylvania’s global ambassadors, blending culture and business.

“Working with the orchestra, we are able to open doors to new businesses, including prospective investors,” he said. Last year, he noted, Pennsylvania saw about $38 billion worth of exports, and 300,000 Pennsylvanians were employed by foreign companies.

Beyond this tour, Fleur is looking forward to the connections they make on the ground and expanding relationships upon arriving home, especially with the Jewish Federation.

“We have so many things in common as major stewards of contributing dollars in Philadelphia that are using music, using culture to meet needs,” he noted. “If this was just a one-off partnership it wouldn’t make sense.”

“The Jewish Federation are the experts to bring people to Israel,” as well as sharing the connection between Israel and Philadelphia, added Naomi Adler, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation.

The trip blends arts, culture and education with the fervor of Jewish Federation’s Israel70 events.

“We’re producing a very high-level trip in which a community member can experience Israel culturally and be a part of the cultural diplomacy that’s involved in the trip and, at the same time, can follow the orchestra and end with this unbelievable culinary experience,” she said.

It highlights travel with a purpose, something the Jewish Federation hopes to bring back to Philadelphia.

“It reminds our community how important it is to have these kinds of partnerships going forward,” she said. “Not only are we a major funder for everything Jewish in Philadelphia, but we’re also a partner to the non-Jewish, Jewishly oriented organizations in Philadelphia.” 

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