This era of coronavirus may become a new normal — we certainly are far from our old normal. Today’s IRIS ORCHESTRA MUSIC MINUTE is a personal family recollection which may have some resonance in this global moment of uncertainty. Despite this current health crisis, we need not have a crisis of faith in music or in ourselves.
On February 23rd, 1991, The Israel Philharmonic was performing in Jerusalem under the baton of Zubin Mehta. The soloist that evening in Mozart’s G Major violin concerto was my father, Isaac Stern. Dangerous as the Middle East has historically always been, the immediate threat then was Saddam Hussein's scud missiles triggering a chemical attack. The performance had just started when the air raid sirens went off; within seconds, the orchestra cleared off the stage, and the trapped audience donned their gas masks, and waited, helplessly and fearfully, for several minutes. And then, my father walked out on stage, alone, without the mask that he had been urged to wear, and began to play a Sarabande by Bach.
It was neither a political statement nor dramatic grandstanding, despite the worldwide attention it received. It was simply a reflective moment of humanity restored, balance regained, and comfort shared, all through music more powerful than any threat. For me, the image of my dad, playing alone to a hushed crowd of frightened people in their gas masks, will always remain in my memory. I was thinking of that event in the context of the reality we are all sharing now, and how we too can be a comfort to those around us. Even with social distancing, as Robert Browning wrote, “Who hears music, feels his solitude peopled at once.” And we will always have music. Stay safe, everyone.
Michael Stern is the music director of IRIS Orchestra of Germantown, Tennessee and the Kansas City Symphony. Tickets and more information can be found at IRIS orchestra dot o-r-g.