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Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

Bronislav Huberman created a miracle by founding the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra from European exiled musicians. Haftel put Israel on the world’s musical map and his influence extended far beyond being a concert master and playing the violin.

When Huberman became unwell & the orchestra was struggling, Haftel took matters into his own hands to manage the orchestra both financially & artistically.

He started to travel to make personal contacts with world famous artists and proved so persuasive that there was almost no conductor or soloist of world reputation who did not grace he Orchestra’s platform.

A list of the artists who have appeared with the IPO reads like a “who’s who” of music. Through his electric personality and powers of persuasion, most of the artists came without a fee. Many of them became personal friends of Haftel such as Bernstein, Isaac Stern, Yehudi Menuhin, Giulini, Krips, Rubinstein.Koussevitzky, Markevitch, Celibidache, Klecki, Paul Paray, Fricsay, Giulini, violinists Heifetz, Menuhin, Elman, Milstein, Stern, Francescatti; pianists Arthur Rubinstein and Claudio Arrau; cellist Paul Tortellier; singers Jan Peerce and Jennie Tourel; and many others. Israeli works were also performed, and composers Lavri, Partos, Ben-Haim, Boskivitch, Avidom and Steinbers were regular guests on the orchestra’s stage.

Treading a delicate diplomatic path between Israel and the Soviet Union, Haftel managed to bring artists such as Rostropovich & David Oistrakh to perform in Israel with Rostropovich declaring publicly that Haftel was his “best friend in the world”.

Haftel believed in supporting young conductors & musicians. Israeli composer Noam Sheriff said “ it was thanks to Haftel that he was accepted to the Berlin Musical Academy”.

On 20th November 1948, a few days after Israel’s liberation, the IPO performed a moving concert on the dunes of Beer Sheba. Senior orchestra members remember the young Leonard Bernstein playing and conducting the orchestra before 5,000 soldiers, within earshot of the retreating Egyptian forces. Haftel and Bernstein were to become close friends. The orchestra also travelled in armoured cars to besieged Jerusalem, raising the morale of civilians and soldiers alike.

In 1951, The IPO embarked on their first tour of the United States and Canada. Concerts were led by Maestros Serge Koussevitzky, Leonard Bernstein, Eleazar Carvalho and Izler Solomon. Later the orchestra toured Europe, which was exciting for the orchestra members and european audiences alike.

The Mann Auditorium was inaugurated as the orchestra’s home in 1957 and Haftel was instrumental in the project: on Haftels 50th Birthday he received a letter from the Mayor of Tel Aviv, Haim Levanon who wrote “were it not for your efforts the Mann Auditorium would never have been built.” The initiator and principal benefactor was IPO American Friend Frederic R. Mann, a close friend of Haftel. The orchestra, which until then had been performing before thousands of subscribers in the small and tattered “Ohel Shem” Hall, seating 620 people, moved into its new hall with 2,800 seats. As a result, the orchestra’s subscribers grew into the tens of thousands.

Haftel considered his greatest achievement in making the IPO one of the world’s greatest orchestras by enlarging its membership with the finest young talents. A crack in the Russian Iron Curtain allowed artists such as violinist David Oistrakh and cellist Msislav Rostropovich to join the orchestra for the first time. Conductors such as Josf Kripps, Istvan Ketesz, Jean Martinon (who was Music Director for one year), Solti, Dorati, Celibidach, Ormandy, Mitropulos and other giants enriched the orchestra and the audience with unforgettable experiences.

This was also the decade in which several young and promising artists made their debuts to much success: violinists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman, pianist Daniel Barenboim and conductor Zubin Mehta, other IPO debuts were made by pianist Glenn Gould, violinist Henryk Szeryng, and Israeli artists Frank Peleg, Bracha Eden, Alexander Tamir, Yahli Wagman, and many others. Throughout this decade the orchestra continued to record with conductors George Solti and Lorin Maazel.

On the eve of the Six Day War a renowned conductor stopped conducting in the midst of a concert series and left Israel. The soloists of that series, soprano Roberta Peters and tenor Richard Tucker, did not panic and stayed. The war broke out and Zubin Mehta arrived from Europe on a plane full of ammunition. He was later joined by Daniel Barenboim and cellist Jacqueline du Pre, who were married in liberated Jerusalem. Leonard Bernstein conducted Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony in one of the IPO’s most moving concerts ever, in the Amphitheatre on Mount Scopus (July 1967). Isaac Stern was the soloist in this concert, and all of the nation’s heads of state were present.

Haftel was a very active concertmaster playing in many chamber music concerts and as a soloist on numerous occasions. He played a varied repertoire ranging from Bach and Vivaldi to Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole and the violin concertos of Dvorak and Mendelssohn.

He also served as chairman of the IPO’s musicians committee and as a member of the orchestras management. The New York Times once reported this was “quite a unique feat, the only concertmaster who is at the same time the manager of the orchestra.” Haftel himself described himself as the “shamash” of the IPO.

Haftel discovered Zubin Mehta and initially invited him to conduct the IPO & subsequently offered him the position of the IPO musical director, a position Zubin held for 50 years.

Haftel received many honours: he was twice inscribed in the JNF Golden Book and received a gold medal from the IPO on its 30thAnniversary.

  • Henry with Rabin

    Henry with Rabin

  • Henry with Ben-Gurin

    Henry with Ben-Gurin


Haftel was held in high regard by many statesmen & politicians. Even David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, who was less interested in supporting the cultural side of Israel recognised the value of the IPO as a cultural ambassador and befriended Haftel.

Prime ministers and other ministers such as Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Abba Eban & others held him in high regard.


  • Haftel With Leonard Bernstein

    Haftel with Leonard Bernstein

  • Yehudi Menuhin With Haftel

    Yehudi Menuhin & Haftel