After European tour, Philadelphia Orchestra will play three concerts in Israel

In a rare move by a major American orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra will tour Israel in June.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the Philadelphia Orchestra (Jan Regan, Philadelphia Orchestra)

Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the Philadelphia Orchestra (Jan Regan, Philadelphia Orchestra)

The Philadelphia Orchestra has announced a five-country tour of Europe beginning in May, which will also include three dates in Israel.

It will be the first tour of Israel by the orchestra in 25 years. Only three major American orchestras — including the Fabulous Philadelphians — have visited Israel in its 70-year history. After playing six cities (Brussels, Luxembourg City, Paris, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, and Vienna), the orchestra will end its overseas tour by jetting over to Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem.

Classical music in Israel is dominated by the Israel Philharmonic and its director of 40 years, Zubin Mehta. They both tour the States frequently, but they rarely get to play host to their American counterparts.

The Philadelphia tour will be led by music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin, a seasoned traveler who has never before been to Israel.

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“This is, in a nutshell, what music is all about,” he said. “We bring to Philadelphia the best musicians from around the world. We have many musicians from Israel, also. This is why it makes extra value for us to go there and visit, and make sure we share our Philadelphia sound with everyone.”

Touring Israel is not without its pitfalls. Rock musicians including New Zealand singer Lorde and the British band Radiohead faced opposition for scheduling tour dates there; Lorde cancelled in the face of pushback from the pro-Palestinian boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra played Israel last year, despite a BDS petition requesting that it cancel its performance. Pro-Palestinian groups often protest outside Israel Philharmonic concerts, including a 2011 BBC Proms event in London that caused the BBC to cut off the live broadcast.

As with most Philadelphia Orchestra tours, this one will come with an entourage of patrons, government officials, and business diplomats. Jefferson University will follow the orchestra to Israel, where it plans to develop an international research and manufacturing hub for smart textiles and medical technology.

Having not been there in a quarter century, the orchestra relied heavily on the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia — with its longstanding relationships in Israel — to plan the tour.

“To be able to stage the type of experience we wanted — not just three concerts, but master classes and pop-up concerts and working with Israel musicians — we needed somebody to help us with the lay of the land,” said Ryan Fleur, the orchestra’s interim co-president. “That’s where the Jewish Federation has come in.”

Naomi Adler, the president of the Jewish Federation, said ushering the orchestra through Israel allows her to deepen cultural ties.

“It will open people’s minds to the possibilities in Philadelphia and Israel,” she said.

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