The Power of Music

Zubin Mehta, Israel Philharmonic music director since 1969, Pinchas Zukerman, a preeminent violinist, and others speak about the power of music to both individuals and to building community.

Regarding musicians and the general public in the 1930s, Thalia Fenyes-Reichard, a descendent of an original member of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, says, “In that generation and time, music wasn’t a form of entertainment, it was a way of life.”

Huberman’s “band” of Jewish European musicians formed a new orchestra in Palestine that would tour in Israel and Egypt and perform before Allied troops during World War II. “I think it was their way of fighting what was happening in Europe and fighting Nazism,” says Fenyes-Reichard.

“We are so indebted to our ancestors, musically speaking, that they have left us 400 years of music,” says Israel Philharmonic music director Zubin Mehta. “These symphonies become stronger and stronger within the people—who maybe not necessarily understand the structure, but the music speaks to them, especially in times of crisis.”

“I don’t believe that you can just play music just as an intellect,” says renowned violinist Pinchas Zukerman. “Somewhere, the emotion takes over. It has to. There is an emotional attachment through harmony that makes you sad or happy.”

In a particularly animated and also serious passage of interview, violinist Pinchas Zukerman sings a few famous bars of melody from Wagner and then says with an intake of his breath, “that’s really powerful. This music connotes tragedy, disaster to society, a killing of a whole culture, not just Jewish culture but every culture, we know. Because the Germans know how powerful this music is. It is very powerful. Imagine, here I am an Israeli, my parents were in Auschwitz and I’m calling German music my music? I’m crazy too. Why is it my music? Because that’s what it is.”

Orchestra of Exiles premieres Sunday, April 14 at 10 p.m. ET on PBS.