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Bronislaw Huberman’s faith: the affect of events on the perception of performance

Bronislaw Huberman’s faith: the affect of events on the perception of performance

Did Bronislaw Huberman encourage the perception of his performances as something that is related to the metaphysical? Huberman’s relation to Judaism was complex. Judaism is more than a religion, is contains important national and cultural beliefs that are present in the lives of Jews that may be considered secular. Huberman’s huge efforts to help Jews during the Second World War were manifested in his foundation of the Palestine Orchestra and his efforts to help Jewish musicians that chose to emigrate to other places than Israel, such as the cellist Emanuel Feuermann. On the other hand, he was not a strict observant Jew, as there is evidence that he did not observe the holiday of Sabbath according to the Jewish religious laws. For example, the Talmud instructs the observant Jew that musical instruments should not be played by a Jew during Sabbath. Huberman was asked to change a date of a concert of the Palestine Orchestra so that it will not occur on Sabbath evening (Friday night). On 23 April 1940 he replied:
      Then there remains the question whether a concert with a serious classical program of music representing the sublimest thoughts and feelings of mankind should not embellish and deepen Sabbath feelings for the listener as well as for the player.
      In Palestinian colonies the concerts could only take place on Sabbath because most of the colonists cannot leave their hard work during the week. And far from being distraction and amusement, these concerts give them a spiritual uplift and force for months and years.
      You write “Mr. Huberman has given a soul to Palestine and fame and happiness”. – Now then, this has not been done by strictly abiding by a law and sitting down and doing nothing, but by carrying out a law from within: to help persecuted people and to support them in their hard work and loneliness, regardless of day and hour. – Which do you think counts for more? (Hubermanm, Ibbeken ed., An Orchestra is Born, p. 70). 
Huberman did not argue that he secular or that the Sabbath is not important. He claimed that not only the sublime feeling of mankind that are represented in the performance of classical music ‘deepen Sabbath feelings’, but his inner law that dictates him to help persecuted musicians through the foundation and performances of the Palestine Orchestra is more important than the ‘strict’ religious law of avoiding playing during this day. The significance of these concerts to the Jews in Israel during these hard times is reflected also from the following letter dated 16 January 1939, Huberman reported to Sidney Matz that
In any other country, no matter how musical it might be, there would scarcely have been concerts altogether in a period of such a political struggle and economic crisis. For our people, on the contrary, the concerts proved to be a most necessary lifting up, filling them with new strength to hold out. One could gather it from the almost religious concentration with which the audiences listened. (Ibid., p. 65)
It is fascinating the Huberman himself uses the word ‘religious’ in order to describe the way listeners listened to performance of classical music. Indeed, the Palestine Orchestra’s performance and Huberman’s performances from the 1930s and 1940s can be better understood under the backdrop of the Jewish people’s struggle in Europe and Israel. In a speech Huberman gave at the Temple Shaare Emeth on 20 November 1942 and the Palestine Society of Philadelphia on 22 March 1944, he described the Jewish revival in Israel and the foundation of the Palestine Orchestra as ‘miracles’ (Ibid. pp. 73-76). He concluded his speech with the following statement: ‘As a child O often wondered how in our times of modern rationalism we could be expected to be as religious as people were in ancient times when they witnessed miracles. Well, today in Palestine one can see endless miracles, if only one has the sense to see miracles…’. Indeed, the combination of a special event and/or place may highly influence the perception of a musical performance. Consider the way the painter and author Nahum Gutman described how the violinist Moshe Hopenko received in 1917 the news of Lord Balfour’s declaration supportive of a national home for the Jews in Palestine. Hopenko not only received the news about the Balfour declaration, but he also returned with the other inhabitants of Te-Aviv after being expelled by the Turkish.
It was no miracle that when Mr Hopenko returned home, he noisily opened the shutters to allow the light into the house which has been sealed for many months… It was no miracle that the violinist opened the black case and took out his good friend, the violin. For many months the case has been wrapped in rags for fear of arousing the curiosity of the Turkish soldiers. The violinist tuned the strings and drew the bow. It was no miracle that he felt happy and liberated. No miracle. His wife sat at the piano, wiped the dust off the keys, and the hitherto dormant sounds emerged.
                        No miracle? Yes, there was a mircle!
            Since the music poured through the windows on to the green road and filled the air. It endowed everything with a certain festive light, which is seen but not grasped. (Nahum Gutman, Shvil Klipot Hatapuzim (The Orange Skin Alley) (Tel Aviv, 1959), p. 78. Quoted and translated by Jehoash Hirshberg, Music in the Jewish Community of Palestine 1880-1948 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 49-50).

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