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Israel Philharmonic returns to Toronto – finally

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THE Israel Philharmonic Orchestra SHAI SKIFF PHOTO

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, led by the legendary maestro Zubin Mehta, is returning to Toronto after a 27-year hiatus.

The orchestra is performing at Roy Thomson Hall on Oct. 28, as part of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s 2017/18 season. The concert has been sold out since mid-September.

Stanley Hartt, the president of the Canadian Friends of the Israel Philharmonic, said the first batch of tickets were offered to Toronto Symphony Orchestra subscribers. Any remaining single tickets went quickly after they went on sale on Aug. 4. “Day 1 was a stampede,” he said.

For those without tickets, Hartt does offer some comfort, at least for the future. Due to scheduling problems, the orchestra had been unable to include Canadian cities in its regular multi-city tours of the United States. The problem has since been resolved, which is why a stop in Toronto was added to the orchestra’s six-city U.S. tour this fall.

“This is the first of what we hope will now become regular performances,” Hartt said. “In fact, the objective is to visit other cities – Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver come to mind. Even Winnipeg would be a place we would like to see them visit on a future occasion.”

Mehta, 81, is retiring in October 2018, after 50 years with the Israel Philharmonic, but he will likely continue to accept guest-conducting roles, Hartt said. “I wouldn’t put it past him to show up here as a guest conductor of the Toronto Symphony.”

Zubin Mehta ODED ANTMAN PHOTO

Hartt’s roots with Mehta go back to the early 1960s, when Hartt was a member of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra’s junior committee. Mehta filled in for a guest conductor who had suddenly taken ill, Hartt recalled, adding that the young maestro was then a recent graduate of a conducting program. Impressed with Mehta, the Montreal Symphony soon brought him on as its music director, a position he held from 1961 to 1967.

Mehta went on to lead the Israel Philharmonic, a world-class symphonic ensemble. He was appointed music adviser in 1969 and became music director in 1977. The orchestra gave him the title of music director for life in 1981.

Mehta has given the Israel Philharmonic the honour of being the last orchestra at which he continued in the role of music director before retirement, Hartt said. “The thought that he devoted so much of his efforts towards the end of his extraordinary career to the Israel Philharmonic is heartwarming, almost tear provoking, because it shows a great love and affection for the country and what it represents.”

Mehta has conducted more than 3,000 concerts with the Israel Philharmonic, in Israel and around the world. In 2012, he was awarded Israel’s Presidential Medal of Distinction by then-president Shimon Peres, for his outstanding contribution to Israeli culture. Peres said Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic “carried a flag of friendship across the world and represented our country in an unbelievable manner. Music conducted by you became a message for peace, a message of hope.”

In accepting the award, the Times of Israel quoted Mehta saying that, “What Israel has given me in the last 50 years, I can only give back by having my musicians, night after night, play their hearts out all over the world.”

Mehta was born in Bombay. His father, Mehli Mehta, was a concert violinist and the founder of the Bombay Symphony Orchestra. Mehta’s family is Parsi, descendants of Persian Zoroastrians who emigrated to India to avoid religious persecution by the Muslims.

In 1978, Mehta became music director of the New York Philharmonic, commencing a tenure that lasted 13 years, the longest in the orchestra’s history. From 1985 to 2017, he was chief conductor of the Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence. He has also led many orchestras at opera houses around the world.

A founder of the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music in Tel Aviv, which develops young talent in Israel, Mehta has recently been involved with a new program that offers music classes to Arab-Israeli students in the cities of Shwaram and Nazareth.