70 Hungarian postcards to the 70-year-old Israel

Symphony of the Exiles - Hungarian voices

By Sándor Silló - 2018-03-02

Translated from the Hungarian original: Bea Sara Goll

Arturo Toscanini, one of the world's greatest conductors, raises his wand. The Italian Pavilion of Tel-Aviv becomes silent. Among the 3000 students are attending Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir and also the Mayor of Tel-Aviv, Meir Dizengoff. There are four Hungarian musicians from Germany, Austria, Poland and Italy in the orchestra: Loránd Fenyves and Fenyves Alice violinists, dr. László Vincze cellist and Tibor Silk, a horn player. The first concert of the Palestinian Symphony Orchestra begins. It was December 26, 1936. Within eight days of the arrival of Toscanini, 15,000 people had attended a rehearsal and concert in Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa.


The ensemble has been called the Israel Symphony Orchestra since 1948. If we happen to be in the box office of its new beautiful home, in the Charles Bronfman Auditorium of Tel-Aviv, we can see a picture on the wall: on it, Toscanini and Bronislaw Huberman are looking at the intersection of the streets named after them. Their first encounter started the classical music life of the yet to be born country.


In the 1930s, anti-Semitism had already darkened Europe. Bronislaw Huberman, a Polish-born Jewish violinist - chose to fight against it with the only weapon he had - music.


"If you have to raise a fist against anti-Semitism, this first-class orchestra will be that fist."


He envisioned an orchestra of Jewish musicians threatened by the increasingly fascist Europe. Save them and their families from what was coming for them. Many people did not believe him, and were more afraid of the unknown, conflict-ridden Palestine, but in 1936 the orchestra was put together... Huberman raised funds, negotiated, corresponded about and organized it. He invited Toscanini to become the orchestra’s chief conductor. The maestro was not Jewish but was a well-known fierce anti-fascist. He cancelled his concerts in Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany. He looked forward to taking on the new position.


It was not easy for Huberman to get immigration papers for the musicians. The launch was scheduled to take place in April 1936, but the British place heavy restrictions on Jews entering Palestine. Huberman negotiated with the Jewish Agency about bringing his musicians to the country, but David Ben-Gurion refused to give permission. He preferred using the tight quota for workers. The stalemate ended in August when Chaim Weizman, President of the World Organization of Zionists, convinced British High Commissioner Arthur Wauchope to give Huberman special permanent immigration papers that he could use at his own discretion ...

The last $ 80,000 missing for the launch came together when Huberman asked Albert Einstein to hold a fundraiser dinner in New York's Waldorf Astoria ...


The Palestinian Symphony Orchestra consisted of the most prestigious Jewish musicians of European ensembles. Nearly 80 musicians joined. They brought their family with them, which meant that Bronislaw Huberman's efforts saved almost a thousand lives. For musicians, it was not an easy decision to leave their homes, their professional relationships, and move to Palestine.


But let’s listen to the Hungarian voices in this symphony now!


Tibor Silk played first horn in the first series conducted by Toscanini. This is the last published information we have about him.


In 1938 some of the string players, with the arrival of Ödön Pártos, composer and a superb viola player, founded the first chamber ensemble of Israel, the Fenyves Quartet, which, after a number of changes to its members, was renamed Israel Quartet, in honor of the establishment of the new State. We don’t know much about Dr. László Vincze, the cello player of the String Quartet. Ödön Pártos would deserve a whole chapter of his own.  But let's look at the Fenyves family.


Sándor Fenyves (Goldstein) and Elsa's Fenyves’ daughter, Alice left a second violin post of the Budapest City Orchestra for the Palestinian adventure. After joining the string quartet, she exchanged the concert stage for a less stressful teaching career. Her name is best found in the biographies of her students.


Loránd Fenyves' exceptional career is richer. In 1934, he graduated from one of the last of Jenő Hubay’s legendary violin classes. He was sixteen years old and he completed his performing arts study within one single year. Like all Hungarian musicians of his generation, he attended Leó Weiner's chamber music master classes, and also studied composition with Zoltán Kodály's for a while. The Academy of Music of the Thirties left a rich spiritual heritage to its listeners.

Loránd Fenyves

"Back then, times were different everywhere in the world; so here, too. For example: I had nothing to do with Bartók. But Bartók taught at the Academy of Music! He climbed the same stairs as I. If Bartók walked along the corridor at three o'clock, I was already waiting for him at 2:30 there. And if I was asked at home what had happened, I could say, I said Good Day to Bartók! Of course he did not answer, he did not notice me at all, but I, standing just three feet away from him, could greet him in person, and that was enough joy for me for the whole week!" Loránd Fenyves tells of it.


In 1936, Bronislaw Huberman, who had visited Budapest, invited him to the Palestinian Symphony Orchestra being formed just then. He had been given another tempting offer by a Swedish orchestra, but chose to go with the pioneer enterprise. In a country that was becoming gradually populated, while in a nearly uninterrupted state of war, he felt he had to be involved in creating a music culture. He was the concertmaster under Toscanini, later Bernstein and a host of other world-famous conductors, but he also often performed as a soloist. In 1940 he was one of the five founders of the Israeli Conservatory and Academy of Music. Together with many other musicians from Hungary, he was a key figure in Israel's musical life during the early years of the country.


He was “a representative of another age, a different mentality, a different approach to music: a concept that made it possible - with the utmost serious dedication to the work - to create some kind of intimate relationship between a piece and a performer. And this intimacy, which can be observed in every small phrase of Fenyves, in his every movement with the bow - it has magic to it," wrote Kristóf Csengery.


"He does not have his own methodology, yet Loránd Fenyves is one of the greatest music teachers in the second half of the 20th century. The secret of his teaching lies in the knowledge of the work and in the mutual respect and even love between the teacher and the pupil," wrote János Kárpáti.


Péter Halász writes about Loránd Fenyves: "His superbly intimate respect for music and his sensible empathy with people make him such a fascinating personality that leaves his imprint on his acquaintances and pupils, not only as a powerful musician but also as a friend."


After years spent in Israel, he moved to Geneva in 1956 and then to Canada, where he was employed by the Toronto University. He took an active part in the Canadian music life. Since the mid-1980s, he had returned to Hungary to perform concerts, and he also tutored the students of the Academy of Music.


He was born on February 20, 1918 and died on March 23, 2004 in Toronto.

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