The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was the brainchild of Bronislaw Huberman, the leading Polish-born Jewish violinist. A child prodigy, Huberman rose to fame at a young age touring the globe. In later life he became interested in politics, and in 1920 put his career on hold to study at the Sorbonne. When Hitler rose to power in the early 1930s and began instituting strong anti-Semitic policies, Huberman feared for the destruction and annihilation of Jewish cultural life.
In 1934, in response to this crisis, the violinist had the vision of creating an all Jewish orchestra in Palestine. Huberman spent two years auditioning musicians across Europe. He chose only the very best from the leading ensembles, creating what would be known as an “orchestra of soloists.” Nearly 1,000 musicians and their families immigrated to Palestine and escaped the horrors of the Holocaust because of Huberman. He was able to not only preserve Jewish artistic culture and establish a world-class orchestra but also undoubtedly save hundreds of lives.
On December 26, 1936, the Palestine Orchestra played its first concert in Tel Aviv under the baton of Arturo Toscanini. A staunch anti-Fascist, the legendary conductor enthusiastically accepted Huberman’s request to join the Orchestra as a demonstration against Nazism, declaring, “I am doing this for humanity.” The public reception to this inaugural performance was overwhelming, with crowds standing outside near the windows and even climbing on rooftops in an attempt to hear the Orchestra. The ovation at the end of the night lasted over 30 minutes.
The IPO is born1948
1940-1943: In an attempt to fit into the Middle East cultural scene the Orchestra tours throughout Egypt with Huberman as a soloist.
1947: Leonard Bernstein performs with the Orchestra in Tel Aviv, marking the start of the renowned musician’s lifelong association with the IPO.
1948: The State of Israel is born and the Orchestra changes its name to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, playing “Hatikvah” at the official ceremony of the Declaration of Independence on May 14. This year IPO also performs a moving outdoor concert for 5,000 soldiers, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, shortly after the liberation of Beer Sheba.
Touring to America1950
1950: The IPO performs in the United States for the first time.
1957: The Frederic R. Mann Auditorium becomes the new home of the Orchestra, bringing audience capacity from 620 to 2,800.
1971: The IPO performs in the prestigious European music festivals held in Salzburg, Lucerne, Edinburgh, and Berlin; it continues to be a part of these important cultural events today.
1973: During the Yom Kippur War the Orchestra performs for IDF soldiers across the nation, from the Golan Heights to Sinai.
1977: After many years of performing with and showing unwavering dedication to the IPO, Zubin Mehta is appointed the role of Music Director
AFIPO Is Created1980
1980: Necessitated by the lack of substantial Israeli government subsidy or endowment for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, AFIPO’s purpose was crystallized in 1980 through the joint vision of Fredric Mann and Zubin Mehta, who created an endowment fund in the United States to ensure the IPO’s future.
1982: The IPO honors the 100th birthday of their founder, Bronislaw Huberman with “Huberman Week” a star-studded event featuring some of the world’s greatest violinists including Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman and Shlomo Mintz.
A Decade of Celebration1980
1984: During the Olympic Games Zubin Mehta conducts Itzhak Perlman and the IPO in a concert at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles benefiting AFIPO. Gregory Peck hosts this exceptional event with Barbra Streisand and Ambassador Fredric Mann as Chairpersons.
1986: The IPO celebrates its Jubilee Anniversary with Leonard Bernstein conducting a concert at Lincoln Center of his original composition “Jubilee Games” written for the occasion.
1987: An unprecedented event occurs when the IPO travels to Warsaw, Poland. Its tour marks the first time an Israeli entity has been invited to a Soviet bloc country.
1988: Leonard Bernstein, upon 40 years of performing with the IPO, receives the title of Laureate Conductor.
1990: The IPO makes history touring the Soviet Union with concerts in Moscow, Riga, and Leningrad.
1994: The Orchestra travels to India and China for the first time; Zubin Mehta and Itzhak Perlman headline this historic tour.
1996: Perry Haber, an AFIPO volunteer and avid supporter of the Orchestra completes the IPO Oral History Collection. This project includes transcriptions and tape interviews from a wide range of memoirists who have been involved with the Orchestra since 1936. Their stories capture and preserve personal reflections, life-experiences and recollections of their association with the Orchestra. The documents are housed, in addition to the IPO Archives in Israel, in the Department of Musicology of the Rubin Academy of Tel Aviv University and at Harvard University in the Judaica Division of the Widener Library.
1999: A group of supporters are given the opportunity to witness the Orchestra’s first performance at Buckingham Palace, where they perform for his Royal Highness, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
IPO's Education and Outreach2000
2000: Zubin Mehta leads the IPO in a historic performance that brings together Palestinian and Jewish children in one concert hall. This event sparks the development of the AFIPO funded KeyNote Program, the Education and Outreach branch of the IPO.
2000-2005: Despite the violence in Israel caused by the second “Intifada” numerous international music stars continue to perform with the IPO, including Valery Gergiev, Gustavo Dudamel, Joshua Bell and Kurt Masur.
2006: Maestro Zubin Mehta is named a Kennedy Center Honoree. Other recipients this year are Dolly Parton, Smokey Robinson, Steven Spielberg and Andrew Lloyd Weber.
2008: The IPO travels to India for a centenary tribute of Zubin Mehta’s father, Melhi Mehta, who was a violinist and founding conductor of the Bombay Symphony Orchestra. A host of international stars join the Orchestra for this celebration including Placido Domingo.
Music for Social Change is Launched2010
2010: The IPO marks 25 years of performing in Japan and a longstanding relationship with Tadatsugu Sasaki. During this trip the Orchestra presents three works with the Tokyo Ballet.
Touring Around the World2013
2013: The IPO travels to Thailand where they perform an outdoor concert in front of the Royal Palace to celebrate the birthday of Queen Sirikit. The event is televised throughout the country.
2013: Renovations of the Heichal Hatarbut are completed and the building is officially renamed the Charles Bronfman Auditorium. The event is marked with a gala concert conducted by Zubin Mehta and featuring Itzhak Perlman.
2013: Children participating in the Sulamot Program perform with Maestro Mehta at the Bronfman Auditorium.
2014: Legendary Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer receives a lifetime achievement award from the AFIPO during a gala event in Los Angeles.
2016: The orchestra celebrates its 80th anniversary with a star-studded festival.
2016: Maestro Zubin Mehta announces his retirement from his post as Music Director for Life, effective October 2019.
2017: Participants from 17 countries attended the IPO’s first International Music Education Conference, led by KeyNote staff.