Peter Donohoe, who won joint silver at the 1982 International Tchaikovsky Competition (the gold was withheld in a classic act of Soviet jury-rigging), finds himself this week for the first time in Israel. And he’s excited. He’s giving four performances of the Gershwin Concerto in F with the Israel Symphony Orchestra.
So Slipped Disc asked him to keep a daily diary. Here’s the first instalment.
Israel, at last
by Peter Donohoe
The result is a feeling of a new and exciting adventure. It is a long time since I had one of those – the last occasion I felt anticipation and excitement like this was when I first went to the Soviet Union in 1982. It is not the fact of experiencing a new country – I have done that many times. It is that it is such a significant country – so special to the music world and to the future of world peace. It is so much a result of all the 20th Century historical events that interest me – events that have shaped all of our lives, our society and our ideologies (those of us who actually have one), and events of such unbelievable hideousness that we cannot even begin to imagine. That said, I have absolutely no real idea of what to expect, and am a little confused by what people say and what appears on the media.
I have had recent experience of visiting and working in the Arabic Middle East, mainly in Jordan. The main reason for going was to raise money for music therapy institutions dedicated to the victims of the never-ending Middle Eastern conflict. The company that made this possible was Music in ME, based in the Netherlands.
Many of my pre-conceptions were contradicted by those visits. That it turned out, for example, that in the orchestra in Amman there were two Jewish Israeli musicians, married to each other, were based in Ramallah in Palestine and had dedicated themselves to the music therapy project was to me a sign that, as usual, the impressions one gets from the media are unreliable, as the full story is always endlessly complex. That they were in mortal danger to be living where they lived and doing what they did seems obvious, but nevertheless they did it with huge commitment. That there was an Arab member of the orchestra who was openly aggressive and contemptuous of the Israeli couple did not stop them, and it did not blind me to the fact that by far the great majority of Arabs there did not feel that way at all.
In the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellite countries, Northern Ireland and Kosovo, my partly media-inspired pre-conceptions were almost completely overturned by the reality. I experienced that in Arabic countries, and I anticipate the same in Israel.
The first thing I encounter is the extra airline security. At Brussels airport, being taken on one side by Israeli security in a similar way to when one is travelling to the USA is a reminder of the threat the country feels from outside sources. Israel also has a reputation for aggression in its own way, of course, and I hope to come out of the experience with a greater knowledge and understanding of the real truth behind the news.
On the El Al flight from Brussels to Tel Aviv, I had the best airline food I have had since I was on Malaysian Airlines in 1st Class between Auckland and Brisbane years ago. You might think that you should be able to expect good food in Business class on any airline. However, I have been on many airlines in Business and occasionally First class, and although I have rarely had complaints about the food, I have sometimes wished I had brought some peanut butter sandwiches.
I had heard rumours across many years that armoured guards were posted very visibly on all El Al flights, but they were not in evidence on this one. Perhaps yet another Chinese whisper? Or perhaps times have changed. Perhaps it is as simple as they are disguised as ordinary travellers.
The crew’s uniforms make them look a bit military to my eyes – in fact the stewardess in charge of Business looked like a prison guard, but was actually very pleasant. The steward looked for all the world like a young Vladimir Ashkenazy.
Tel Aviv airport is modern, huge and very impressive. The landscape is like a cross between Southern California and Jordan.
The weather is very very hot – 33C and cloudless – this after the worst and wettest British Summer within living memory. I am not good with hot weather, but I do like to look at it from my hotel room with the air-conditioning set as low as possible. We have air-conditioning at home in the piano studio, but it has been somewhat under-used in recent years, and this year it might as well have been put in a museum.
I notice that the main arterial road signs are green like in the USA, and in both Hebrew and English. The rush hour traffic in Tel Aviv (my flight arrived at 4.45 p.m.) is beyond description – makes Seoul seem like a village.
Here‘s the second instalment.