Shlomo Mintz - Press

April 17, 2005 at 02:34 AM · SHLOMO MINTZ

violinist - violist - conductor

PRESS EXTRACTS 2004 – 2005

Ha’aretz (By Hagai Hitron) 10/08/2004 Keshet Eilon

(Gala concert in Tel Aviv with teachers and participants of the Keshet Eilon Mastercourse)

...Shlomo Mintz demonstrated true violin musicianship and an elegance of tone in Kreisler’s exceedingly spare “Recitativo and Scherzo-Caprice”, and observed in brief remarks that Keshet Eilon’s vision is to be a light unto young violinists throughout the world.

Whoever attended the Mastercourse events at Kibbutz Eilon knows that this comment was no exaggeration but a reflection of reality...

Diario de Sevilla (By Andrès Moreno Mengíbar) 14/10/2004 Sevilla

(Recital with Itamar Golan - Brahms Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Major Op. 78, Sonata for Viola and Piano No. 1 in F Minor Op. 120, Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor Op. 108)

...Shlomo Mintz performed Brahms’s sonatas with sober gestures and a high degree of concentration, with an irreproachable technique and a clear and fleshy sound.

There was poetry, passion, fire and energy. And what a quality of sound…

Der Landbote (By Anja Bühnemann) 19/10/2004 Winterthur

(Winterthur cycle - Recital with Itamar Golan - Brahms Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Major Op. 78, Sonata for Viola and Piano No. 1 in F Minor Op. 120, Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor Op. 108)

...Shlomo Mintz played with great intimacy and his performance was characterized by inner emotions and a scale of fine nuances.

The impressed audience rewarded him with standing ovations...

Aargauer Zeitung (By Jürg Haller) 26/10/2004 Baden

(Winterthur cycle - Orchester Musikkollegium Winterthur - conductor and soloist - Stravinsky Suite No. 1 for small orchestra, Shostakovitsch Kammersinfonie in C Minor Op. 110a, Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major Op. 61)

...Shlomo Mintz shone both as conductor and violin soloist.

It was wonderful to see him combining the double function of soloist and conductor. He mesmerized the audience with his intense tone, his flawless technique and his subtle shaping of the musical lines.

The orchestra followed him highly concentrated and in the end the enthusiastic audience gave him a roaring applause.As a conductor, Shlomo Mintz impressed with his ability to inspire the musicians on a deep emotional level, which resulted in profound interpretations...

Der Landbote (By Rita Wolfensberger) 26/10/2004 Winterthur

(Winterthur cycle - Orchester Musikkollegium Winterthur - conductor - soloists: Itamar Golan & Natsuko Inoue - Mozart Concerto for two pianos and orchestra KV 365, Poulenc Concerto for two pianos and orchestra in D Minor, Beethoven Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21)

...During his week as a guest star with the Musikkollegium Winterthur, Shlomo Mintz showed that he is a masterly chamber music player and concert soloist, as well as a brilliant conductor, and in this last concert, in which he performed only as a conductor, he proved that he is also an excellent soloist accompanist.

Shlomo Mintz’s conducting is an ideal mix of precision and flexibility and his refreshing interpretations of even the most well-known pieces resulted into a wonderful listening experience...

Beijing Portal (By Joey) 02/11/2004 Beijing

(Recital with Adrienne Krausz - Mozart Sonata for violin and piano No. 34 in A Major KV. 526, Schubert Sonata for violin and piano in A Major D. 574 "Grand Duo", Beethoven Sonata for violin and piano No. 10 in G Major Op. 96)

...Israeli Violinist Shlomo Mintz is one of the finest musicians in the world...

WASO (West Australian Symphony Orchestra) 25/11/2004 Perth

(Announcement upcoming performance of Brahms’s Violin Concerto)

...Sibelius, Beethoven, and now the Brahms. Those who have followed Shlomo Mintz’ survey of the great romantic violin concerti in his remarkable partnership with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra will not want to miss this superb violinist’s performances in 2005.

When an artist of this presence and authority stands on the stage of a city’s concert hall,

the silence that he commands steals into the city’s consciousness, and the sound that pours forth from his instrument, burns into its soul...

Westdeutsche Zeitung (By Finn Jacobsen) 13/12/2004 Düsseldorf

(Düsseldorfer Symphoniker - soloist - Beethoven Violin Concerto)

...Shlomo Mintz played with noblesse and concentration and his wonderful tone carried remarkably far, and was clear in all ranks and nuances…

Since he has no technical limitations, he played the solo part in a natural way, without any unnecessary effects...

El Día (Author unknown) 11/01/2005 Tenerife

(Zurich Chamber Orchestra - soloist - Mozart Concertos No. 4 & 5)

...The interpretations of Mozart’s Violin Concertos No 4 & 5, performed by Shlomo Mintz, were rewarded with a roaring applause...

Frankfurter Rundschau (By Bernhard Uske) 20/01/2005 Frankfurt

(Tour with English Chamber Orchestra - conductor and soloist - Bach Violin Concerto No 2 in E Major,

Mozart Violin Concerto 5, Jupiter Symphony)

...Shlomo Mintz at the Olympus…

The precise musicians of the English Chamber Orchestra adjusted to the master and offered a record experience live...

Tageblatt (By Marco Schmidt) 24/01/2005 Munich

(Tour with English Chamber Orchestra - conductor and soloist - Mozart Concertos No. 4 & 5, Jupiter Symphony)

...With his violin tones Shlomo Mintz could even enchant a nightingale, and his perfect co-operation with the English Chamber Orchestra was an otherworldly highlight...

Südwest Presse (by Jürgen Kanold) 25/01/2005 Ulm

(Tour with English Chamber Orchestra - conductor and soloist - Mozart Concertos No. 1 & 3, Prague Symphony)

...Shlomo Mintz played unendingly beautiful, and conducted the sovereign English Chamber Orchestra in a serious and convincing way…

Too good to be true? No, it was good and true...

Altamusica (By Gérard Mannoni) 31/01/2005 Paris

(Tour with English Chamber Orchestra - conductor and soloist - Mozart Violin Concerto No. 3, Sinfonia Concerante for Violin (Hagai Shaham) and Viola (Shlomo Mintz), Jupiter Symphony)

...Shlomo Mintz, magical and magnificent…

A true lesson in music, direct and sincere…

Mozart like one has always dreamt it...

Classicalsource (By Colin Anderson) 03/02/2005 London

(Tour with English Chamber Orchestra - conductor and soloist - Mozart Concertos No. 4 & 5, Jupiter Symphony)

...Shlomo Mintz is not a regular visitor to London – which is a shame.

His renditions of Mozart’s concertos returned this music to an era of time-taken elegance…

With consistently measured tempos, shapely articulate phrasing, and with no need to intervene on the music’s behalf, these were totally trusting, rather genial accounts...

Il Resto del Carlino (by Stefano Marchetti 08/02/2005 Modena

(Tour with English Chamber Orchestra - conductor and soloist - Mozart Overture Le Nozze di Figaro,

Concertos No. 3 & 4, Prague Symphony)

...The incredible soloist conductor Shlomo Mintz and the English Chamber Orchestra offered an extraordinary performance…

This evening will always remain a “souvenir”...

Hong Kong Entertainment ( 21/03/2005 Hong Kong

(Hong Kong Sinfonietta - soloist - Beethoven Violin Concerto)

...In the violin concerto in D, Op 61 by Ludwig van Beethoven, Shlomo Mintz kept the audience spellbound throughout an entrancing performance, excellently supported by the orchestra.

After the concert the audience was treated to a most superb solo performance and repeated encores. An evening to remember...

Extracts assembled and translated by Ilona Schaareman

To all who like to read about Mr. Shlomo Mintz!



Replies (26)

April 17, 2005 at 05:46 AM · Illona,

Thank you so much for your efforts. I am a huge fan of Shlomo Mintz, and cannot understand why he is not recording with a major label again.



April 17, 2005 at 06:31 AM · I guess major labels have their own reasons - good or bad - for deciding who to sign. That said, I read a press statement indicating that Mr. Mintz was extremely happy to have signed with Avie.

I recently received my copy of his new Mozart concerto cycle CD in Avie and it is a wonderful recording - everything I was hoping it would be. Great recordings both in terms of performance and sound engineering. It has everything I look for in a recording. I am looking forward to receiving my copy of the Brahms sonatas as well. The store had already sold out their stock of that CD even though I pre-ordered it!

April 25, 2005 at 07:10 AM · Dear all,

On the following link you can find Mr. Mintz’s current biography:

Kindest regards,


May 5, 2005 at 10:12 AM · Some recent press:

Jyllands-Posten (By Hjarne Fessel) 29/04/2005 Aalborg

(Aalborg Symfoniorkester - soloist - Bartók Violin Concerto No. 2)

...International allure in Aalborg...

Shlomo Mintz has a fierce temperament and his typical, sometimes even aggressive tone-shaping suited Bartók’s Violin Concerto fabulously…

His virtuoso performance was profound, personal, and in every way convincing…

Il Gazzettino (By F.L.) 29/04/2005 Vicenza

(l'Orchestra del Teatro Olimpico - soloist - Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto)

...Shlomo Mintz’s, the soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, bewitches audiences in all great concert halls of the world with his incredible talent...



July 20, 2005 at 09:30 AM · Latest press on Mr. Mintz's concerts:

SSO (events) 13/05/2005 Singapore

(Announcement concert with Singapore Symphony Orchestra)

Celebrated Israeli violinist Shlomo Mintz ("Shlomo Mintz's heavenly tone enchanted the audience"- Munchner Zeitung) makes his Singapore debut as both soloist and conductor in this all-Beethoven concert.

He will lead the SSO from the violin, a first in the history of the Orchestra…

Bravo-Music (By lzydata) 13/05/2005 Singapore

(Singapore Symphony Orchestra - conductor and soloist - Beethoven Coriolan Overture,

Symphony No. 8 in F major, Violin Concerto in D major)

…Shlomo Mintz’s playing and conducting was fantastic…

Blogspot (By Pei Yun) 13/05/2005 Singapore

(Singapore Symphony Orchestra - conductor and soloist - Beethoven Coriolan Overture,

Symphony No. 8 in F major, Violin Concerto in D major)

…Shlomo Mintz was the conductor for the concert, and he was also the violin soloist.

It was noteworthy to know that he conducted the orchestra from the violin tonight, while playing the solo violin for Beethoven's Violin Concerto.

His sound was clear and refined…

The West Australian (By Neville Cohn) 04/07/2005 Perth

(West Australian Symphony Orchestra - soloist - Brahms Violin Concerto)

…Brahms’s Violin Concerto abounds in musical ideas. Some bristle with virility - and Shlomo Mintz was the man to convey them to the listener in all their rugged strength.

The opening measures of the finale, for instance, were informed by an almost palpable, grainy tone that projected arrow-like into the auditorium.

Mintz was no less convincing in evoking the composer’s most tender themes, clothing notes with beguilingly sweet sound. This latter quality was much in evidence in the slow movement.

Here, Mintz revealed the achingly beautiful solo line flawlessly, allowing the listener to savour this gentle, lullaby-like statement to the full.

This serene quietness was all the more effective when contrasted with Mintz’s defiant, even aggressive, approach to the outer movements of the concerto…



December 5, 2005 at 05:06 PM · Dear all,

we proudly inform you that there will be from now on a website available with many informations about Shlomo Mintz.

Please visit:

Christa Morneweg,

Management Shlomo Mintz

December 5, 2005 at 06:12 PM · Finally! It looks nice... would his concert schedule be posted?

December 5, 2005 at 06:25 PM · Nice to see a website finally

Without a doubt Mr Mintz was one of the greatest violinists ever recorded - a wonderful sound and effortless technique and somehow he has a unique way of phrasing and articulating his ideas, very colorful sound and often offers a unique musical vision... his recordings of paganini caprices and sibelius are among the best I have heard - bar none - as is the prokofiev concertos and sonatas, the dvorak is exploding with expression.

Its a shame dg dropped him, Im really happy to see him still going.

December 5, 2005 at 07:53 PM · Yes, the concert schedule will come up soon.

Mr. Mintz is very happy now to work with AVIE Records. Do you have the new CD's?

With both of them he was chosen from the new

Penguin Guide under the top 100 with outstanding


New recordings will come end of 2006.

Christa Morneweg,

Management Shlomo Mintz

November 21, 2006 at 08:00 AM · Press quotations on Mr. Shlomo Mintz’s concerts and recitals during the 2005 - 2006 season:

Otago Daily (New Zealand) 07/07/2005

…Shlomo Mintz’s violin playing: Ravishingly beautiful with the ability to enchant a nightingale…

Ha’aretz (Israel) 11/08/2005

…Keshet Eilon (Patron: Shlomo Mintz) is an educational enterprise that entices both ear and eye… (Switzerland) 13/08/2005

…The magical Maestro Shlomo Mintz…

Atelier (Romania) 29/09/2005

…Phenomenal soloist - conductor Shlomo Mintz deeply affected the audience…

Jornal do Brasil (Brasil) 30/09/2005

…Shlomo Mintz: a great name, a perfect violinist…

Hoy (Ecuador) 11/10/2005

…Gentle musical lines and difficult virtuoso violin solos were performed with dazzling skilfulness by violinist Shlomo Mintz…

Libertà (Italy) 27/10/2005

…Mintz, a magician on the violin…

ArtRusse (France) 24/11/2005

...An exceptional concert…

University of Malta (Israel) 21&22/12/2005

…Violinist Shlomo Mintz’s magical baton leads the choir and orchestra…

El Universal (Mexico) 18/01/2006

…Shlomo Mintz: “We must listen to each other more than ever. I hope that this concert communicates through music and words the message "Nunca más" - "Never again"…

Gazeta Wmborcza (Poland) 06/03/2006

…The illustrious Shlomo Mintz displayed exceptional musicality and marvellous elegance…

Corriere della Sera (Italy) 30/03/2006

…The great Shlomo Mintz returns to Milan not just to reveal once again his incredible immense talent on the violin, but also to present his skills as a violist and a conductor…

La Nacion (Argentina) 06/05/2006

…The highlight of the evening was the exceptional Shlomo Mintz…

Diario de Cuyo (Argentina) 15/05/2006

…Shlomo Mintz, a phenomenon…

Radio Prague News (Czech Republic) 06/06/2006

…Violinist Shlomo Mintz’s applauded recital can be seen as one of the true ornaments of the festival…

Ecuador Inmediato (Ecuador) 23/06/2006

...Shlomo Mintz: One of the leading and most enchanting violinists & conductors of the world…

November 21, 2006 at 11:33 AM · I heard Shlomo play Beethoven Sonatas this past summer in Switzerland. His playing was absolutely "top shelf"! This guy is a great violinist/artist. I hope he comes to play in the US soon.

November 22, 2006 at 10:29 PM · I bought Shlomo Mintz's Vivaldi violin concerto collection this past summer (10 CDs!) and he plays them so beautifully. I used to have his Paganini Caprices, until I loaned them out... I really would like to hear him live. What a great player!

November 23, 2006 at 08:13 AM · Last month, Shlomo Mintz performed the caprices in Spain. This is an extract of the review:

El Norte de Castilla (By Fernando Herrero) 07/10/2006 Spain

(Paganini 24 caprices)

…To interpret Paganini’s 24 caprices in one single concert is an immense achievement.

Only a few instrumentalists have the courage to do so, and Shlomo Mintz, the American - Russian artist, realized this in an absolutely triumphal way.

Paganini’s compositions are, of course, virtuoso and for that reason the technique predominates over musical inspiration.

But Shlomo Mintz showed in an amazing way that the caprices also do possess moments of great beauty.

This experience was fascinating.

With absolute solemnity, an amazing technique and a prodigious left hand, Shlomo Mintz taught us what playing the violin is about.

The audience reacted with great bravos and the artist, in spite of his already incredible performance, played yet another virtuoso piece of the composer.

An absolute triumph…

November 23, 2006 at 08:26 AM · Wow playing all the caprices in one concert...

November 26, 2006 at 09:43 AM · And one more press extract from a Spanish critic on the Caprices:

FiloMusica no.78 (By Fernando López Vargas-Machuca) November 2006 Spain

…It is beyond understanding that there is a human being on the Earth who is able to touch this monument of the most arduous and impossible virtuosity in such a perfect and direct way.

Absolutely all the technical resources of the violin are within the reach of his hands, and in addition, he uses them without showing off at any moment.

One heard a sound so powerful and homogenous, a sound beautiful and flexible, and he obtained at any moment a polyphonic clarity, which is far from easy in these not so very playable pieces by Paganini.

Shlomo Mintz managed to extract a good dose of strength, gentleness, irony and dramatic musical quality in a tense reading, with expressive shades, and at moments he even surpassed the miracle that already offered in his mythical registration for Deutsche Grammophon from two decades ago…

January 16, 2007 at 10:51 AM · Diario de Navarra (By Fernando Pérez Ollo) 16/11/2006 Pamplona

Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra - soloist - Bartók Violin Concerto No. 2)

…The magnificent Shlomo Mintz, who is undoubtedly one of the greatest violinists, demonstrated both his master skills and profoundness in Bartók’s Concerto and in an encore by Bach.

His flawless, touching and subtle approach of Bartók’s composition relieved the heaviness of this concerto by the Hungarian, who is considered a pioneer of the Twentieth Century music…

Comunità ebraica di Milano (By Guido Vitale) 29/11/2006 Milan

(Recital with Adrienne Krausz - Mozart Sonata KV 378, Shostakovich Sonata Op. 147)

…”There is something that goes beyond every possible artistic understanding”…

This became clear in the extraordinary concert that Israeli violinist Shlomo Mintz gave at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan.

The performance of the violinist, who is nowadays unanimously considered to be the greatest violinist of our times, was unforgettable.

With his flawless technique, and his intense and transparent renditions, Shlomo Mintz left the audience breathlessly and in ecstasy…

Radio Televizija Srbije (Production Department) 9/12/2006 Belgrade

(RTS Symphony Orchestra - soloist - Sibelius Violin Concerto)

…More than a concert…

AmadeusOnLine (Press office) 15/12/2006 Vercelli

(Orchestra Camerata Ducale - conductor and soloist - Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4 KV 218,

Mozart Symphony. No.25. KV 183, Bach Violin Concerto in A Minor BWV 1041)

…Shlomo Mintz in Vercelli - The enchanted bow…

The audience of the Viotti Festival could admire the extraordinary twofold musical skills of famous violinist and conductor Shlomo Mintz…

May 8, 2007 at 09:02 AM · Via France/E. S. Glaser 09/01/2007 Paris

(Concert with Cihat Askin, Ernst Simon Glaser, Torleif Torgersen & Hagai Shaham)

…Violins for life…

Violinist Shlomo Mintz pays homage to violins of the Shoah with this “Violins for Life” concert.

Through several compositions, the violinist leads the audience through the universes of the violins of Shoah…

An exciting concert with the legendary Shlomo Mintz from Israel…

The Jerusalem Post (by Maxim Reider) 12/03/2007 Eilat

(Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra - conductor and soloist - Tchaikovsky Serenade for strings, Mozart Concerto No. 4, Symphonia Concertante

…The concert of Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra from Amsterdam, led by Shlomo Mintz, crowned the festival.

Performing "Serenade for Strings," by Tchaikovsky, the orchestra exhibited a beautiful and flexible chamber sound. After intermission, Mintz played "Concerto No. 4" by Mozart and then, switching to viola, offered a top-notch rendition of "Symphonia Concertante" by the same composer together with violinist Hagai Shaham…

Il Portale del Violino (Author unknown) 27/03/2007 Figline Valdarno

(Orchestra Regionale Toscana - conductor and soloist - Grieg Holberg Suite, Beethoven 2 Romances, Schubert Symphony No. 5)

…Last Saturday evening I listened to the optimal Orchestra Regionale Toscana conducted by


May 9, 2007 at 01:32 AM · I have trouble believing that DG really dropped such a great musician, but we live in a new world and the major labels are no longer the final word in music promotion. It's DG's loss.

May 12, 2007 at 12:26 PM · Dear Dion,

they didn't drop him, the contract expired and recordings as I produced with Shlomo Mintz since 2004 would not be possible these days with the "big" companies at all.

After the highly acclaimed recordings of the Brahms Sonatas and all Mozart concertos a new album will be released end of 2007. Shlomo Mintz

just finished the recording, accompanied by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, with the 2 violin concertos, the viola concerto and the 2 Rhapsodies by Bela Bartok.


Christa Morneweg

Management and producer of Shlomo Mintz

October 30, 2007 at 09:07 AM · Sofia News Agency (Author unknown) 29/04/2007 Sofia

(Bulgarian Radio Symphony Orchestra - soloist - Brahms Violin Concerto)

…Famous Israeli virtuoso Shlomo Mintz’s playing is considered to be equal to Paganini's…

Los Andes (By Patricia Slukich) 19/06/2007 Mendoza

(La Orquesta Sinfónica - soloist - Brahms Violin Concerto)

…Shlomo Mintz: One of the best violinists of the planet…

An extraordinary performance…

KBS-Info (Author unknown) 28 & 29/06/2007 Seoul

(KBS Symphony Orchestra - soloist - Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in e minor, op.64)

…Shlomo Mintz, Master of the Dazzling Glamour…

October 30, 2007 at 12:06 PM · Some years ago I had the opportunity to see and hear Shlomo Mintz playing in my town.

He played Mendelsson´s Concerto with a German Orchestra, and it was probably the best concert in which I was present in many years. I was sitting behind double basses, but I could hear him perfectly, and he could play with as big as sweet sound. Then, when Mendelssohn´s Concerto came to the end, Mr. Mintz delighted us with Paganini´s Caprice No.1. Probably I´ve never heard that Caprice played so fast and, at the same time, so expressive. It was amazing!! At the end everyone in the hall was clapping passionately. I´m remembering that evening with much pleasure.

October 30, 2007 at 02:03 PM · Shlomo is playing all 24 Paganini Caprices at Carnegie Hall on November 18th. Several other cities as well. An amazing feat! I plan to go hear him in NYC.

November 1, 2007 at 11:00 AM · A short review and some comments and quotes on Shlomo Mintz playing the Caprices in Italy and The Netherlands:

Corriere della Sera 07/10/2007

By Parola Enrico

The great Shlomo Mintz at the Scala


A sold-out concert hall for the 'Caprices' played by Shlomo Mintz for charity

"This is for children all over the world."

After filling the hall of the Piermarini with an overwhelming and virtuoso performance of Paganini’s 24 Caprices, Shlomo Mintz spoke a few words.

"Giving money is not enough: we must also devote our talents," explained Mintz after the concert, which he ended with an encore by Bach, to calm down the enchanted audience who attended his concert of last Friday night, at the Scala.

This long awaited recital of the great Russian violinist was dedicated to the "House of small angels,"

a centre for children with mental and physical handicaps in Haiti.


AT5 News Amsterdam 21/10/2007

…Violin expert Herman Krebbers: “When one can play the Caprices, one can play anything”…

Amsterdam Weekly Amsterdam 21/10/2007

…The world renowned violinist Shlomo Mintz is touring the world's greatest concert halls for memorable performances of Paganini's 24 Caprices for solo violin…

The TV Show (Dutch TV) Amsterdam 21/10/2007

…Ivo Niehe: “Shlomo Mintz: The best violinist in the world, a very special person”…


Corriere della Sera (Italy)

…Critics define Shlomo Mintz as a “phenomenon”…

MijnNL (Holland)

…Only the greatest violinists can play these impossibly difficult compositions…

Amsterdam Uitburo (Holland)

…The ultimate challenge…

Musical acrobatics…

July 10, 2014 at 12:17 PM · Shortly before Yom HaShoah (Remembrance Day) 2014, a Violins of Hope stamp was issued in Israel.

Let's hope, that the Violins of Hope project and the stamp will create more awareness...

Violins of Hope

Shlomo Mintz:

“By playing those instruments, I feel that I am fulfilling a duty to pass the past sound into the future, which means that if humanity has created things beyond belief in terms of madness in the first and second world war, those things could be avoided by making and giving sound and fulfill the phrase ‘never again,’ not only towards the Jewish people, but for all generations and all nations to come.”

July 11, 2014 at 07:16 AM · Watch the moving "Violins of Hope" concert, performed on January 27th 2014 in Rome by Shlomo Mintz, Yoel Levi and others, on the Facebook Page of "I Violini della Speranza":

July 11, 2014 at 08:09 PM · Over the Wall to play Beethoven in Jerusalem

The Ramallah Orchestra's journey through - and over - Israeli barriers to star in the Holy City.

First published by Sandy Tolan on 24 Jul 2013 at

Jerusalem - Beethoven's 4th Symphony has inspired countless thousands of musicians since it was first performed more than two centuries ago. Yet few, it's safe to say, have risked arrest and prison time just to play this magnificent piece of music.

Enter the Ramallah Orchestra, made up largely of Palestinian musicians in their teens and 20s, accompanied by 15 or so visiting teachers and performers from Europe and the US. The orchestra is a project of Al Kamandjati, the Ramallah-based music school. For the Palestinians in the orchestra, Beethoven's music makes up only part of the story.

The concert venue was in the Old City of Jerusalem, a holy place embedded deep inside the collective dreams and history of the Palestinians, yet denied them by a combination of bureaucracy and concrete. For the Jerusalem concert, some of the musicians had managed to obtain the permits Israel allows for special occasions.

But on this hot summer day in Palestine, five members of the orchestra were not so lucky. To play with their orchestra in the Holy City, the musicians would resort to the otherwise unthinkable: climbing over the Separation Wall.

Their journey started in the early afternoon, in the stone and copper courtyard of Al Kamandjati's headquarters in Old Ramallah. Three dozen young Palestinian musicians and visiting accompanists climbed aboard a tour bus, instrument cases slung over their shoulders, renewing an annual Jerusalem ritual.

For Palestinians, Jerusalem is becoming an imaginary city. Though barely 20 kilometres separate Ramallah from the walls of the Old City, reaching Jerusalem is increasingly less a physical journey than an exercise of the mind and spirit.

The city has been effectively sealed off by massive physical and bureaucratic barriers, while ironically being declared "united" by Israel, the authority in control during this period of the city's 5,000-year history.

To prove that, Israel's Minister of Public Security recently shut down a children's theatre festival and puppet show at the Hakawati, East Jerusalem's Palestine National Theatre, because the festival had allegedly received funds from the Palestinian Authority. The PA is confined to the West Bank, but its position - backed in word if not in deed by the most of the world's nations - remains that East Jerusalem should be the capital of a sovereign nation called Palestine.

A trip in two worlds

Now the lucky permit holders of the Ramallah Orchestra would be reconnected, if only for a few hours, with their holy city. (Al Quds, the Arabic name for Jerusalem, means "The Holy.") But the five musicians - one of the orchestra's four violists, both of its timpani players, one of the double bass players, and a gifted violinist - had been told they would need the magnetic identification cards Israel is implementing for its permit regime.

According to Al Kamandjati's director Ramzi Aburedwan who went to apply, "They said, 'We don't have the magnetic cards until July 10'" - days after the concert. "It's f..king crazy," Ramzi said. In an orchestra of only 37 people, the contributions of these five musicians was vital. If the Ramallah Five couldn't participate, Ramzi said, he would cancel the concert.

The bus arrived at Qalandia military checkpoint, an exhaust-choked border crossing where hot, fuming drivers jockeyed for position, funneling into a single line before submitting for inspection. Vendors selling kebab, tissue packets, pillows, bottles of water and verses from the Koran weaved through the knots of vehicles and the plastic litter and chunks of broken concrete.

The bus inched forward. Here, where the massive wall separates Ramallah from Jerusalem, the Ramallah Five would try Plan B: Sit in the back of the bus, hoping the soldiers would somehow get lazy and check only the foreign passports and approved permits. As part of this plan, musicians holding the proper documents were strategically placed towards the front of the bus.

Three Israeli soldiers came on board, their American-made M-16s rifles slung around their shoulders, and began their inspection. One of them, baby-faced, with honey-blond hair, appeared to still be in high school. The soldiers checked the passports in the front row, then conferred, apparently discussing whether to check the whole bus. After some barked orders from a radio clipped to one of the soldier's uniforms, they moved toward the back. Plan B, it appeared, was not going to work.

Within minutes nearly all of the Palestinians, even the ones holding proper papers, had been ordered off the bus. Permits or not, they would not be allowed to cross the checkpoint in relative dignity, like the foreigners who remained on the air-conditioned bus. Instead, they would walk past the red metal benches of the "passenger lounge," surrounded on three sides by blue vertical bars, then pass down a long corridor of silver bars, akin to a cattle chute on a western ranch, except for at the end, they would be required to move through multiple 2.5-metre-high turnstiles, before ending up jammed with dozens of other Palestinians in front of yet another blockade.

Opus in the sun

The bus waited on the other side. Montasser Jebrini, a Palestinian clarinetist now studying in France, was riffing on the hot pavement, playing a solo performance of "Helwadi" (Beautiful Girl), the song made famous by the Lebanese singer Fairouz. Montasser said he believed he had been allowed to stay on the bus because he passed for a European or Anglo-American. "I am glad to be here," he said, "but I feel bad it's just because my skin is lighter, while my friends have to walk through the checkpoint."

In the parking lot, Simon Hewitt Jones, the visiting British soloist scheduled to perform the Mendelssohn that evening, stepped off the bus with his violin.

Other musicians broke out their instruments, and they began jamming: Violins, viola, cello, French horn, trumpet, clarinet, performed by an American, three Brits, a Frenchman, an Irishman, and a Palestinian. Mozart's "A Little Night Music" gave way to the Mendelssohn ("opus baking in the sun," someone quipped), then morphed into Morrison's Irish Jig, led by Johnny McBride, a fiddler from Northern Ireland.

The whole tableau was set against the backdrop of gun turrets, spindly red-and-white surveillance towers, and the supposedly impenetrable wall.

"It's pretty threatening," said McBride. "But not altogether unfamiliar. For the first half of my life, this is what Northern Ireland looked like."

Plan C

Steps away, on the Ramallah side, separated by more walls of bars, the Palestinian teenagers waited in the scrum. Every so often, above the turnstile, a red light turned green, a click sounded, and three or four more people passed through to place their possessions on a conveyor belt, hold up their permits to a dull green bullet-proof window, and wait as bored-looking soldiers on the other side inspected the documents and waived the permit holders through.

But there were only nine permits for 14 musicians, and those without couldn't talk their way through. And so the Ramallah Five were turned away. They clicked their way backward through the turnstiles and cattle chute to the Ramallah side, denied Jerusalem and uncertain what to do next. They had to come up with a Plan C.

One or two at a time, Palestinian string players met at the bus. Soon all of them had arrived, except for the Ramallah Five. "They couldn't get through," someone said. "They said to go on to Jerusalem. They will try to join us somehow."

The passengers rode south in silence for a time, wondering if the concert - in the Old City on the grounds of the French church St. Anne's - would have to be canceled.

"Hey," someone said to the musicians back on the other side, "you want to go to Jerusalem?" He sat with a group of men smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, and nodded towards a van. "Yes," the musicians said. "You are five? It will be 250 shekels" - about $70 dollars, or $14 per musician.

The man offering passage turned to his partner. "Get these guys to Jerusalem." The Ramallah Five piled into a van. The door slid shut and the driver began working two phones, making arrangements. "Give me the money," he said. They haggled over the price, agreeing on 40 shekels (about $11) each. "But you have to pay now," the driver said. The man gave them his phone number, and told them to call when they reached Jerusalem. Apparently he wanted satisfied customers.

A short time later the driver pulled over, stepped into a building, and emerged with a long ladder, which, when extended to its full length, reached the top of the wall. "Come," he said. The five musicians approached the towering slab of concrete, which reached at least 7.5 metres high.

Back on the bus, the mood of the rest of the musicians was subdued. As it rolled south, it was still unclear whether the five musicians would somehow make it through to Jerusalem.

Up and over

A string player went up the ladder first, gazing up to the top of the wall, where nasty-looking loops of razor wire presented a sharp and dangerous obstacle. But the Palestinian "trafficker", who had scrambled to the top of the wall, had already cut the wire; now, he sat beside the ladder at the top of the wall, and, with the back of his forearm, simply swept the loops of wire aside, like a curtain. They must do this all the time for illegal Palestinian workers, the musicians realised. Then the Palestinian trafficker pulled a long knotted rope from a plastic bag, looped it around a metal post at the top of the wall, and dropped it down to the other side.

One by one, the young musicians mounted the ladder, sat atop the wall, grabbed the rope, and slowly slithered down, trying to use the knots as footholds. It wasn't easy; the knots were small. Halfway down, one of the string players saw a vehicle approaching on the narrow access road. He froze; was this a soldier coming to arrest him?

"Don't worry," the man called down, "it's a local Palestinian." Still, the violist began to imagine what would happen if he were arrested. From the midpoint, perhaps 4.5 metres above the ground, he fantasised about being taken to jail, and telling his fellow Palestinian inmates, to boisterous laughter, that he'd been arrested for intending to play music. Then, still sliding down the rope, he imagined the speech he would give to the judge in Israel:

"Why am I guilty? The only thing that I am doing is trying to make my music for people in Jerusalem. For your information, I have learned about your suffering. I was shocked by this [Israeli] history. What I don't understand is why you're treating us this way?" the violist thought.

The hard ground at the end of the rope snapped the musician from his reverie, and he looked up to see the timpanist toss the bag of his sticks down towards him from the top of the wall. Now the violinist was coming down. But something was wrong; he was having trouble telling how far he was from the ground. He jumped too early, landing on his feet and falling hard onto his back. Everyone laughed because it seemed he was okay. From the top of the wall, the bass player tossed him his violin, in its case.

Now all five musicians were together, on the Jerusalem side of the wall. The entire operation had taken five minutes. They brushed themselves off and entered a restaurant for kanafe, the pizza-shaped Palestinian dessert made of sweet cheese and pistachios. "That kanafe was very good," recalled the viola player. "Then we called to see where the bus was."

Standing ovation

The Ramallah Five appeared on the road beside the bus, smiling broadly and bounding up the steps to cheers from the orchestra. One of them showed a few of the passengers a video of the ladder, and the wall, and two of the musicians climbing towards the sky: proof of their deed.

Twenty minutes later, the orchestra arrived on the tranquil grounds of St. Anne's, a French church built during Crusader times. An old French priest welcomed them with a soft smile and a heavy accent; tourists wandered quietly through the garden, or rested on shaded benches. A French flag flapped from the steeple. It was as if Qalandia and the wall had never existed.

The musicians disappeared into the cavernous church to rehearse Beethoven's 4th Symphony, and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. The sound of a violin solo drifted out, joined now by the entire orchestra; trombone, oboe, flute, and the pounding of the timpani.

But the violinist who had climbed the wall fell ill, vomiting repeatedly. It was shock, a doctor told him, from the hard landing at the wall. He would not play the Old City that night.

The other 36 members of the Ramallah Orchestra would, however. A little after 8pm, strings whispered the haunting first notes Beethoven's 4th, in a minor key, as 200 visitors filled the chairs of the old church. They had no idea what it had taken to get to Jerusalem to play Beethoven.

But perhaps they sensed something. Moments after Diego Masson, the visiting French conductor, made his last thrust, and the final notes of the 4th echoed off the walls, the audience rose in a sustained, joyful ovation.

Sandy Tolan is associate professor at Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California.

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