Once More, With Feeling — “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

illustration by Avi Katz

The sniffles turned into sobs during the dissonant piccolo solo. The Israel Philharmonic was about four minutes into the first movement of Shostakovich’s Sixth Symphony and the weeping distracted me from the conductor, Gianandrea Noseda, who seemed not so much to be cuing the orchestra as to performing a long slow death dance.

The tears were coming from a little girl in a long-sleeved dress who was sitting two rows in front of me in the Jerusalem Convention Center’s high balcony. She looked to be about eleven years old and she held her hands tightly to her cheeks as she wept. Her shoulders heaved in a way that seemed to indicate that she was holding much more sorrow inside than she was letting out. But then the strings returned with a desperate restatement of the opening theme that descended a chromatic scale into a lower depth of agony. When the music dissolved completely into a virtual silence, she let out a very audible throaty gasp. The older couple sitting in front of her turned around to eye her. A boy in a black kipah who was sitting one seat away—apparently an older brother—sidled over beside her, gave her a smack on the back of her head, and whispered something angry in her ear.

Read moreOnce More, With Feeling — “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

Muscle and Mahler — “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

illustration by Avi Katz
I was not at all surprised when I noticed Gustav Mahler sweating on the elliptic machine next to me at Talpiot’s Body & Soul gym, although I’m not sure whether I should be proud or embarrassed that I’m probably the only patron of that middle-browridge establishment who would have recognized the gentleman with the high forehead, electric hair, and wire-rimmed glasses, especially since he was wearing a track suit rather than the usual three-piecer and bowtie. He strode at quite a brisk pace, his gaze directed intently at the vista of southwest Jerusalem visible through the gym’s large windows.

What I mean to say is not that I’m so familiar with the countenances of the great composers that I could pick any one of them out of a crowd of a thousand (although I could, I certainly could), but that I half-expected to see this particular late-Romantic Austrian-Bohemian-Jewish symphonist and conductor on this particular day, a fact that I remarked to him after removing my Ipod’s left earphone.

He didn’t hear me at first, and then it seemed to take him three or four beats to tear himself away from the view of Bayit VaGan, Malha, and the hazy Vale of the Spirits that winds through the Jerusalem hills down to the House of the Sun.

“Not surprised? Why would that be?” he asked, looking me over with what I could best describe as a sharp critical eye. “I do not normally patronize this place, but the celestial health club is closed for repairs and they have sent us here in the meantime.”

Read moreMuscle and Mahler — “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report