Last night we played Bartok Concerto for Orchestra in Haifa. It was the first piece that I played with the IPO in October 1976; they were returning from a 4-week tour in the US where they had played it every other night, and I was joining them for my first concert; after 7 weeks in the Ulpan. I had an hour rehearsal to fit in.
But that is not what brought a smile to my face while we were playing the fifth movement. The last time I had played the piece in Haifa was with Yoel Levy in Feb. 1991; the last concert before the start of the Gulf War. Back then I didn’t understand the implications; the empty highway home, the little cardboard boxes on peoples’ shoulders, but that night at two in the morning, when we started to hear Scuds in Ranaana, it became clear; it was the last concert we would play for a month. The IPO did manage to keep busy though. The next night at three o’clock, the phone rang, “Marck, tomorrow at 7 o’clock report to Tel HaShomer. Bring your boots and dog tag.” For the next three weeks, 20 members of the IPO suited up in their “ABACH” suits for every missile alert, ready to receive the hundreds of injured and contaminated by chemical warfare. My brothers in law, who were real soldiers, sat at home, and the Israel Philharmonic did reserve duty 24 hours a day!
OK, we played some chamber music at the hospital and generally got on each others’ nerves, but it was army and until we went back to playing concerts, we manned the showers of Beilenson Hospital.
In fact, every time I play “Concerto for Orchestra”, I think back to that first week in the orchestra. At the first rehearsal, I was suddenly sent up to the first stand to play beside the Principal player, Danesi. Already at that first rehearsal I understood how dysfunctional the bass section was: nobody wanted to sit next to the first player, the assistant had already distanced himself to the second stand, the players at the back were extremely weak, and the two relatively young, schooled players in the group were an ineffectual minority. What a surprise after knowing the reputation of the Israel Philharmonic. The situation ended 18 months later when I resigned from the orchestra, intending to move on.
My last Mozart 39
Some pieces accompany you throughout your career and Mozart’s 39th Symphony is one of those pieces. I remember hearing it for the first time as a music student. It was a recording with the Royal Philharmonic; Sir Thomas Beecham conducting and it’s still my favorite. It was also the year that I learned all the bass parts of the Beethoven and Mozart Symphonies.
When I was starting out professionally in Canada, we played it all the time and even recorded it for the CBC. Later, Zubin took it on tour, but for years, I haven’t seen it. This January, we performed the 39th with Finnish conductor Osmo Vanska. Such perfect symmetry, elegant counterpoint, subtle balancing of winds and strings; everything one expects from Mozart. Right in the middle of all this perfection, it occurred to me that it will probably be my last time playing the symphony; how sad! Such an eternal piece that warrants playing again and again. Now I really wonder if I’ll see it again. A little tragedy….
March 2019 will mark a huge change in the life of Peter Marck. Join us on an intimate and personal quest through the tides with a passionate musician and IPO icon, and a dear friend.
For the first time and exclusively to IPO colleagues and followers, a musician of our Orchestra will share insights into the challenging but also liberating process he goes through – towards his final performance with the IPO.