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.