The 16th Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition

Some fifty years ago the International Piano Master Competition honouring pianist Arthur Rubinstein was established in Israel. Every three years (four years in 2021 due to the Coronavirus pandemic), young pianists from all over the world compete in front of audiences in Israel  for the prizes awarded by an international jury in the framework of the competition.

Each competition enables young musicians to test their mettle against one another, as well as to thrill audiences with their talent and ability. This year, again because of the restrictions imposed as a result of Coronavirus, the competition was held in a ‘hybrid’ version, with the initial recitals being given in various countries and seen and heard all over the world by means of the internet.

The final stages were held in Israel, with each of the six finalists playing a piano concerto by Beethoven (the year the Competition was due to be held, 2020, was the tricentennial anniversary of Beethoven’s birth), before going on to perform a piano quintet and concluding with a piano concerto from one of the great Romantic composers.

I learned to play the piano in my youth, and although I did not get very far with my studies then, every few years since then I have tried to resume my efforts, with varying degrees of success. But I feel that this gives me a clearer idea of how much skill and dedication, not to mention sheer talent, is involved in reaching the levels of virtuosity and musicality displayed by the various participants.

This year there were thirty-two initial competitors, all of whom had attained a very high level of playing the piano. Ten of them were women, twenty-two men. All were between the ages of twenty and thirty, and came from all four corners of the globe, though the large proportion of competitors from the Far East was evident.

At this point I must admit to having a personal interest in the competition this year. It may sound a little far-fetched, but one of the competitors, Ariel Lanyi, lives next door to us, and the walls of our two salons abut one another. Hence, even though our houses are solidly built, we are well aware of his practicing routine, as Ariel is able to produce a powerful (and wonderful) sound from the beautiful Steinway Grand which dominates their living area.

Since we are delighted to have such a talented musician living next door to us (and are friendly with his parents), even though he spends much of the year in London and elsewhere, it is only natural that we favoured his candidacy for first prize. In addition, Ariel also writes a weekly blog about music, which I almost always share on Facebook. He writes very insightfully about a selected piece of music for the piano, which he then goes on to play. Although he is only twenty-three years old, his knowledge of music theory and his analytical ability far surpass his youth, and I always learn something from reading his thoughts.

And so at the final stages of the Competition I was listening with bated breath to each performance. I might add that Ariel’s performance of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations at one of the early stages was a veritable tour de force, winning accolades from prominent musicians, among them Israeli pianist and composer, Gil Shohat. In the final stages, Ariel’s performance of Beethoven’s third piano concerto, which I heard over the radio, also marked a high point in the competition, seeming to bring Beethoven himself to life.

In the final stage of the competition, Ariel played Brahms’ second piano concerto with great aplomb and maturity, gaining resounding applause from the audience in Tel Aviv. In the final event, however, Ariel was not awarded one of the first three prizes, though he did gain a well-deserved prize for his performance of a work by an Israeli composer. I don’t envy the judges who must decide which of the very talented young pianists should be awarded a prize, and at every stage they were at pains to point out that they were all very talented. The three final winners, Juan Perez Floristan from Greece, Shiori Kuwahara from Japan and Cunmo Yin from China, were undoubtedly talented, but in my opinion no more so than any of the other three finalists.

For us music-lovers (the French have a word for it, melomane) the world of music moves on to the next concert, the next festival, or whatever the fates have in store for us. For Ariel Lanyi and the other competitors there is always another competition, another performance or another event to tackle. We wish them all the best of luck and the strength to continue bringing joy and harmony to our world.

The Perils of Internet Purchasing

Throughout the year of Coronavirus lockdown we were confined to our homes and could not venture out into stores, markets or shopping malls. Attending a performance at a theatre or a concert, or even the cinema was strictly forbidden, and even a café or restaurant was out of bounds.

That was a difficult time for many people. After all, man — and especially woman – is a social animal. That was when the internet became our salvation. Quite apart from sending and receiving emails from all and sundry, there was also the consolation provided by Facebook, Whatsapp, Zoom and other social media, enabling us to interact – albeit via the computer, iPad or smartphone screen – with other human beings. Those so-called human beings might in some cases have been robots, but still, we were made to feel that we were not completely cut off from the outside world.

Entertainment was also supplied by the television, Netflix, and other providers of programmes and films, so that our social and cultural desert was not totally devoid of interest.

Another of the consolations provided by the internet was on-line shopping. I don’t know about everyone else, but my screen ‘feeds’ constantly contained images of desirable garments, books, items of furniture, gadgets and sundry items with which someone out there sought to entice me. Most of the time I managed to resist the temptation, but , I must confess that there were occasions on which I succumbed.

For instance, how could I possibly resist a sweatshirt on which my name was emblazoned? My name isn’t a very common one, and so it seemed that this was providential. Using the very efficient Paypal scheme, I sent the money to the address provided and some months later was summoned to the local post office package delivery depot, to collect it.

The items I ordered from Marks and Spencer’s almost always arrived promptly, were well-packed and delivered in an efficient and pleasant way. I’ve learnt from bitter experience not to buy any cheap toys from China, however attractive they may be. Friends have told me that Ali Express is also quick and efficient, but I don’t seem to be on their radar, and I’d rather keep it that way.

Some other items were impossible to resist. So I ordered an illustrated book from a very inventive and ingenious company in the Netherlands which produced a tailor-made A-B-C book for my granddaughter, utilizing the letters of her name. The book was a great success, so I ordered another of their books, this time for her fifth birthday, once again tailor-made using the letters of her name. The idea was charming and the illustrations delightful. When the book hadn’t arrived in time for her birthday, as promised, I contacted the company and asked what had happened. They apologized and sent me the tracking number, telling me that the book was now in Mevasseret. I duly went to the post office package delivery depot, showed them the tracking number and there it was! Because the package didn’t have my phone number on it, the P.O. hadn’t been able to send me an SMS saying that it had arrived. So why do I have an address?

Some items never arrived, and in those cases I notified the seller, and was able to get a refund. One lone company ignored my demand for a refund, and since I had bought the item through eBay, I asked eBay to deal with it. Their reply was that since more than 21 days had passed, the case was closed. But here Paypal came to my rescue. I spoke to their representative on the phone, they opened a dispute for me, and within a day or two informed me that I would be getting a full refund. Luckily, they take responsibility for purchases made via their service, and this period extends to several months.

I would advise anyone buying anything via the internet to make a note of the name of the company, the date of purchase, and all relevant reference numbers when making the purchase. At my advanced age I can’t rely on my memory to keep track of that kind of thing any more. And the emails I kept did sterling service when it came to getting refunds.

The Falling Sword

As an aficionado of historical novels, I was eager to start reading this book by Ben Kane about the clash between Greece and Rome, especially since the cover blurb proclaimed ‘Can Greece resist the might of Rome?’ As I later found out after clarification from the author, this blurb was misleading.

It was in fact a stupid question, as we all know the answer. However, the nitty-gritty of exactly how this came about intrigued me, and I was eager to learn more about that crucial period in the history of the world. Regrettably, by the time I finished the book I was more confused than when I started. I found I was reading about a world in which Greeks and Macedonians were separate (and possibly opposing) entities, but what precisely the difference was eluded me.

Fortunately, the author had kindly provided his email address at the end of the book, and his reply helped clarify the matter for me. This is what he wrote: There was no Greek nation at the time. There was no sense of being ‘Greek’. Someone was an Athenian, or a Theban, or an Achaean, a Spartan, from Corinth, from Aetolia, from Thessaly etc. Macedon was not Greece, no. Macedon was a powerful city state that controlled much of ‘Greece’.

So be it. The book consists of detailed accounts, written in a readable and interesting way, of the battles, tactics, fighting forces, weaponry and equipment of the armies concerned. The author is certainly very knowledgeable on the subject, and the extensive glossary and Writer’s Note at the end of the book contain a great deal of valuable information.

The book starts in the autumn of 198 BCE with an account of the terrain, situation and movemeents of the Roman army led by Tinctus Quinctius Flamininus. Subsequent chapters describe the situation and movements of the Macedonian army, led by King Pbilip V.

In the course of the novel the reader is introduced to several characters of varying ranks in both armies, and despite the author’s best efforts to give them distinguishing characteristics such as names and affiliations, they tended to get mixed up in my mind as I read on. The period described was one in which Rome was challenging the other powers of the ancient world for supremacy, and this involved vast masses of men at arms marching hither and yon and clashing with one another in various horrible and murderous ways. That is the price a nation pays for seeking to defeat its rivals and gain the upper hand. That grim reality is described in considerable and compelling detail, bringing to the fore the brutality of that way of life, quite aside from the promise of reward for participants on the winning side.

In conclusion, I found the book constituted a veritable treasure trove of information about the weaponry, procedures and behavioural minutiae of the armies of the ancient world, giving the reader an insight into a way of life that was harsh but nonetheless the fate of a large part of humanity at that time.

Cover design: blacksheep-uk.com

The Dumbing Down of Israel

Another Independence Day. Another day in which the aroma of roasting meat fills the air wherever you turn. My OH and I are as guilty as anyone else of adding to the general consumption of meat on that day, and enjoy spending time in the open air with friends, because that’s what one does.

Yigal remembers that in his youth in the Haifa area he and everyone else would celebrate the day differently. In those days everyone was out in the streets milling around, then suddenly a few people would form a circle and spontaneously burst into song and dance (the hora, of course). That was long before people started ‘attacking’ one another with squeaky plastic hammer and foam spray.

As a new immigrant in the 1960s I remember enjoying the squeaky plastic hammer experience, though not the foam spray. After getting married and having small children our days of milling around in the streets were over, though we did manage to enjoy picnics in the garden with friends and relatives. Everyone brought their own food, and played games. We didn’t possess a barbecue.

Spending the concluding evening last night watching the Israel Prize ceremony gave me pause for thought, quite apart from my disgust at the censorship imposed by the Minister of Education in refusing to award the prize to a leading scientist because his political opinions were not in line with those of the government.

The Israel Prize is awarded for academic or social excellence, and serves as Israel’s attempt to provide its own version of the Nobel Prize. Sadly, I have never attended a Nobel Prize ceremony, but I have read about it, and I know it is a very stately and serious occasion. Just imagine, if the ceremony would be the occasion for a series of pop singers to pop up, sing and play at the tops of their voices a medley of songs of questionable taste (and certainly not my taste). But that was the overriding tone of the Israel Prize ceremony last night. The whole occasion left an impression of bad judgment and inferior standards.

The recent change in the way the classical music programme on the radio is presented is another sign of the times. Where in the past it was customary to broadcast an entire symphony or concerto with minimal presentation between the items, it now seems to have become de rigeur to play just one movement of a symphony or concerto, and then go on to something else. To make matters worse, certain broadcasters think that their musings and thoughts about music and life in general are of interest to the listening audience. FYI, they are not.

As the torrent of letters of complaint to the newspapers has shown, the audience of the classical music programme is outraged by the change in the approach, as well as by the inordinate amount of time devoted to pop and jazz, oriental music and composers no one has ever heard of.

All these developments reflect the general malaise of Israeli society in recent years, and they doubtless all stem from the political rot at the top. I know it’s a cliché to complain that the country is going to the dogs, but that is certainly the feeling among many people old enough to remember what the general atmosphere used to be. The main fear of my peers and myself is that it’s possible to decline further still.

Remembering

Last night and today (8 April) Israel is marking its own Holocaust Remembrance Day. In another week we will hold a day in which we honour the memory of our fallen soldiers, and then straight on its heels, we will celebrate Independence Day. It’s something of an emotional roller-coaster, but we have learned to take it in our stride.

What it means is that for a week or so the population undergoes some kind of catharsis, with each day marked by special events as well as radio and TV programmes dedicated to the subject. Thus, today, for example, the classical music programme broadcasts music composed by musicians who perished in the Holocaust (Pavel Haas, Viktor Ullmann, Gideon Klein, for example), or Jewish composers who were banned by the Nazis (Mendelssohn, Mahler, etc.). The evening ceremony at Yad Vashem with which the day of remembrance starts, commemorating the six million Jews who were murdered, was televised, and all other TV programmes focused on that theme.

So all in all, it’s a day of sad contemplation of what the Jewish people has lost, not only in numbers but in individuals, parents, children, relatives, people who worked with their hands or their brains, doctors, scientists, artists, writers, and lawyers, and so many others. So much talent wasted, so many minds and bodies obliterated senselessly.

And then there were the children. My Facebook feed shows me photos of well-dressed children who were obviously dearly loved, their sweet, innocent faces looking out at me from the distance of time and space before they were torn from their homes and brutally killed. I sometimes find it unbearable to read the captions under the photos describing who they were and how old they were, and to my shame I quickly continue on to the next item in my feed.

The ceremony at Yad Vashem is also part of the package. I force myself to listen to the speeches, though when the politicians begin using the occasion to glorify their own achievements I have been known to switch away. But the ceremony also includes harrowing personal accounts from survivors, and these I find it impossible to avoid. Of course, those who survived are now in their eighties and nineties, but those who spoke were amazingly lucid and their memories clear, intense and distressing. But they all concluded their speeches by proclaiming their love for Israel and rejoicing in their families.

My cousin, Uri Lowenthal, has undertaken a project which involves transcribing and translating the last letters, postcards and Red Cross messages sent by our grandparents from Germany in 1941. A letter written by a relative some years later to Uri’s parents explained what had happened. True to their methodical approach to every aspect of their life, our grandparents had arranged everything for their journey out of Germany, with papers, train and steamer tickets, and every document required by the authorities. They were at the station with their luggage, about to board the train that would take them to the port, when the official who checked their papers declared that our grandmother, Paula, who was fifty-seven years old, was still young enough to work in a factory, and prevented her from leaving. Our grandfather, Max Hirsch, who was three years her senior, would naturally not agree to leave without her.

And so their fate was sealed. Whether they were sent to a concentration camp or died in some other way is not known. They, too, form part of the six million missing souls whose lives were cut short by the unimaginable cruelty of the Nazi machine. Just another drop in the ocean of sorrow that is part of our heritage.

Learning the Lingo

A recent article (by Elaine Samuels, on Facebook and in the Israel Telegraph online) recounted the trials and tribulations she experienced in her efforts to learn and speak Hebrew. This triggered long-dormant memories of my attempt to learn Hebrew.

Although it’s many years since I underwent that process, the memory came back as if it had been just last week. In my day (some fifty years ago) there was no internet, no ‘Tel Aviv Café’ and in fact computers hadn’t been invented. Learning a language was a lengthy and complex process involving frontal lessons, written homework and much pain.

The concept of the ‘ulpan’ (intensive immersion in a language) was developed to a fine art in Israel, and sometimes even involved a residential option. The idea is to classify students by level of fluency in Hebrew and assign them to classes accordingly.

But when I came to Israel, in the late summer of 1964, no ulpan would accept me. The university term was due to start in late October, and because I made it clear at the outset that I was not going to be able to complete the course I was refused admittance wherever I applied.

And so, completely unprepared as far as the language was concerned, I embarked on my M.A. studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, while at the same time working as a research assistant there. Luckily, my work in the Department of Sociology was based primarily on my ability to read and understand (and edit) the English texts produced by various members of the teaching staff. An attempt was made to test my ability to translate from Hebrew into English, but my ignorance of basic terms soon made it clear that this was not a good idea.

I would sit in lectures or seminars given in Hebrew, trying frantically to catch a word or two that I could understand, and attempting to work out the gist of what I was hearing from that. Obviously, that did not get me very far, and what with one thing and another (war, marriage, children) I never completed that degree.

When my daughter was born I stayed at home to look after her. In my isolation I would listen to the radio, and eventually managed to benefit from some of the programmes. One of my favourites was ‘For the Housewife,’ hosted every morning by now-famous actress Rivka Michaeli. This consisted of a pot-pourri of five-minute talks by various experts. One of these was a chef who provided useful recipes, another was a children’s doctor who doled out advice in a soothing voice, and yet another was the (female) editor of a newspaper who would talk about matters of the day, and so on. In between musical interludes Rivka Michaeli would interview artists, musicians or any other personality who was invited to the studio, and this, too, gave me some insight into what was happening in the world around me.

In effect, that programme was a useful introduction to life in Israel (my years at the university had kept me isolated from general Israeli society). In addition, somehow along the way I managed to pick up enough Hebrew to enable me to go on to my next career, as a translator of Hebrew texts into English.

So it would seem that the standard form of language teaching in Israel is not the right approach for everyone. I was lucky in having very little option but to listen to the radio when my children were small. And once they went to kindergarten and school the Hebrew language made its way into our daily life. My efforts to speak English with them were met with less and less success, though there are still vestiges of English in our communication with one another.

Even my grandchildren can communicate in English to some extent, though whether that’s due to my efforts or their need to keep up with the world around them is debatable.

Here We Go Again

It’s déjà vu all over again. Groundhog Day. More of same.

Another general election in Israel. The fourth in the space of two years. And again the result does not give a decisive majority to any combination of the 38 parties vying for our votes.

Israel’s society is fragmented into countless interest groups, with parties representing segments of the population, ideas and occasionally even ideologies that seek to predominate this small country.

I look with envy at England, my birthplace, with its two or three main parties. Even the USA, for all its faults, has managed to maintain its two-party system. Would that Israel could enjoy a similar situation.

While the rivalry between the various parties, factions and splinter groups reflects the nature of Israel’s population, it seems to have descended into farce when one enters the polling booth and is confronted by a tray containing 36 different options (6 x 6 compartments) for voting plus an ‘overflow tray’ with another two.

Even before the final results were in, our Machiavellian prime minister was already trying to cobble a coalition government together, even if this involved cooperating with extremist Jewish nationalists as well as the representative of an Arab Islamist party. What is clear is that the majority of Israel’s population appears to support right-wing views. Whether this is the result of natural selection or public relations is debatable.

I don’t use the term ‘Machiavellian’ lightly, but it does seem to represent Benjamin Netanyahu, whose machinations after the last election involved pleading publicly with Benny Ganz, the leader of the Blue-White party, to join forces with his Likud party to form a government, in which he promised ‘no tricks or funny business,’ and to enact a mid-term rotation with Ganz for the role of prime minister.

Needless to say, no sooner had Ganz responded to that call, thereby incurring the ire of his former colleagues in the Blue-White party, leading to a split in its ranks, than Netanyahu started to stymie him at every turn. The coup de grace came with Netanyahu’s refusal to enable the government to pass a budget, even though it had been agreed at the outset of the coalition negotiations that a two-year budget would be passed.

Following the Coronavirus epidemic, and the relative success in the acquisition and distribution of the vaccine, Netanyahu has managed the timing of the lockdowns and their subsequent relaxation so as to reach election day with maximum economic easing and permitted social contact.

Whether that is why people still vote for him or it is rather his ability to portray strength of character and inspire confidence remains a mystery to me. As far as I’m concerned he is a shady character with the ability to play a role and lie glibly that redounds to Israel’s shame.

Unless there is some kind of radical change, Israeli society seems doomed to enter a tunnel of racist, fascist, homophobic and retrograde policies, unless and until people wake up from their dreams of expansion and hegemony over others. But there’s no indication that that will happen any time soon.

Until the next general election, which is already looming on the horizon.

Image: Tomer Sapirstein

‘Eagle in the Sky’ by Wilbur Smith

I ordered this book from Bibliophile because the blurb proclaimed that its main character was a pilot who fell in love with an Israeli woman and fought for his adopted country. That, in essence, is the nub of the story, but around it surges and swells a series of events and adventures involving love and enmity, joy and sorrow, and a veritable roller-coaster of emotions for the reader, who cannot help but be drawn into this gripping tale of romance, adventure and action.

The hero of the story, David Morgan, is a handsome young man born into a wealthy South African dynasty who is expected to become a respected partner in the family firm. However, he spurns the career that has been mapped out for him in order to devote himself to his love of flying. In his travels through Europe he encounters a beautiful young Israeli, Debra, and eventually follows her to Israel.

In Israel he is considered suitable to serve as a fighter pilot in the country’s Air Force (I’m not sure that is actually feasible in this day and age), and forges a brilliant career for himself in that capacity. In the chapters that follow the reader is treated to a highly detailed account of the method of operating a Mirage aircraft, with copious amounts of technical information on a subject which this particular reader found rather tedious.

Subsequently the events come upon the characters thick and fast, with tense descriptions of incidents which may or may not have actually taken place at some point in Israel’s history, and these affect our main characters in various ways.

Without giving away too much about the way the story twists and turns in ways that have a direct bearing on the behaviour of the principal characters, the plot takes us on a bumpy physical and psychological ride through extensive medical procedures (again, far too much technical detail for my taste) more adventures and derring-do, and a final twist in the tail on the very last page of the book..

Although this type of book does not conform to my usual taste in reading matter, I found it to be well-written, interesting (on the whole), and a gripping yarn. On consideration, I’d say that the wealth of technical detail and high level of tension in the development of the narrative indicates that the target readership is the male of the species. It seems clear to me that the book was written with the idea or ambition in mind of having it turned into a movie So if that kind of book is your cup of tea, go for it!

A Literary Furore

The latest scandal to erupt in Israel’s literary arena has been triggered by the book published by Galia Oz, the daughter of the late, greatly-esteemed writer, Amos Oz. The memoir, entitled ‘Something Disguised as Love,’ burst upon the Israeli reading public in a blaze of publicity arising from its controversial revelations concerning the behaviour of Amos Oz towards his daughter.Galia Oz claims that in her childhood her father acted consistently and relentlessly in a violent and aggressive manner towards her, beating, kicking and abusing her verbally. She also claims that the entire Oz family ostracized and demonized her.

Literary circles in Israel have been having a field day, chewing over the contents of the book, analysing the author and the veracity of her claims. Thus, Benny Tzipper, the literary editor of Haaretz, uses the opportunity to denigrate both father and daughter for what he considers to be their inferior literary ability and ‘narcissism.’

Amos Oz has been universally acclaimed, both in Israel and abroad, as a leading literary talent, and I personally have greatly admired his use of language and ability to recreate time, place and character in those of his books I have read. Benny Tzipper has proved himself to be a capable literary editor, though in other aspects (his adulation for Sarah and Benjamin Netanyahu, and the fact that he is something of a dandy in his attire) I am deeply suspicious of his judgment.

He uses the opportunity presented by being able to review Galia Oz’s book to represent himself as a long-suffering victim of verbal abuse hurled at him on the phone by Amos Oz’s widow, claiming that her furious tirade caused him to forget to get off the bus when it reached ‘his’ kibbutz. The unsuspecting reader would assume that the writer is a member of a kibbutz somewhere in the north of Israel, but a quick glance at Google reveals that he merely lives in a suburban extension of a kibbutz, and hence has no affiliation with the socialist values of that institution.

For Benny Tzipper to accuse Amos Oz of being narcissistic is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. One might even argue that anyone who writes and publishes a book or an article is, by definition, narcissistic themselves.

But the plot thickens. The following weekend edition of the paper (today) contained a heartfelt article in the op-ed section (for obvious reasons, I’m guessing, not the literary section) by Mark Glazerman, who claims to have been a long-standing friend, as well as the physician, of Amos Oz, stating that he knows how saddened his friend was by the rift with his daughter which, according to Glazerman, was Galia’s doing.

By chance I happen to have reliable inside information about the rift within the family, which bears out Glazerman’s claim.

The sparks are still flying, and the book is still selling, which may have been the object of the exercise. The furore has given Benny Tzipper a chance to cast aspersions on one of Israel’s leading literary lights while at the same time (mis)representing himself as a noble warrior in Israel’s struggle for social justice.

At Last!

After a year of living in a cultural desert, the ban on public performances in Israel has finally been lifted. And last night when we were able at last to attend a real live concert.

The requirements were clear: anyone who had bought tickets had to provide proof of having been vaccinated twice, as well as a certificate of identity. The seating arrangements were equally stringent, with an empty seat between anyone not from the same household (very handy as a place to put one’s coat). We were told to come at a set time before the concert so that arrival times would be staggered. This being Israel, however, that particular requirement was tossed aside as people struggled to locate the necessary documents on their mobile phones and had to be helped in this by the staff. Although there is no age limit on getting vaccinated in Israel, the vast majority of the recipients are the over-sixties, and it was that age-group that constituted the majority of the audience.

Despite all the restrictions, the atmosphere was joyful. As is customary with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, since this was the first concert of the season a chocolate treat (a Ferraro sphere) was handed to each member of the audience as they entered the building. The familiar foyer of the Jerusalem Theatre was as festive and welcoming as ever, and even though social mingling was not allowed, there were many smiles and waves as people recognized familiar faces they hadn’t seen in over a year, and even strangers enjoyed one another’s company – from a distance.

Once everyone was seated, in accordance with the Coronavirus regulations, the orchestra filed in and took their socially distanced places on the stage to enthusiastic applause from the waiting audience. The members of the orchestra replied in traditional manner by stamping their feet or tapping their instruments, thus creating a thunderous noise. Like the audience, all the players were wearing masks, except for the wind and brass players, who were seated behind perspex screens.

More applause greeted the entry of the conductor, Doron Solomon, who was evidently moved. From the dais he turned to the audience and spoke briefly, saying how happy and honoured he was to be conducting the wonderful orchestra at this landmark concert, adding that he admired and respected every single member of the audience.

With the first strains of the music, Schubert’s overture to Rosamunde, the peace that only music and harmony can bestow on hundreds of assembled souls descended on the auditorium. No one coughed, no cellphone ringtone rang out and everyone was on their very best behaviour, treasuring the moment as a precious jewel to be stored in one’s memory of momentous events.

It bears noting that while in the past it was almost trivial, or at least routine, to go to a concert, last night’s performance was a momentous event. How I – and I believe many others – had longed for that moment when the orchestra began to play!

Needless to say, the music was inspiring, and the piano concerto by Haydn was played with aplomb by the very talented Ofra Yitzhaki. As an encore, after enthusiastic applause, she treated us to a delicious arrangement of a charming Israeli song disguised as a lied by Schubert (I wish I knew who arranged Schubert’s ‘Serenade’ as the introduction and accompaniment).

In line with the Coronavirus restrictions, there was no intermission, as that would have been the signal for the traditional social mingling. Hopefully, that, too, will come in the fullness of time and vaccinations. The concert ended with a fine performance of Schubert’s fifth symphony, followed by more long and enthusiastic applause, and then it was time to venture out once more into the cold Jerusalem night.

But our hearts were warm.