On March 30, 1936, the voice of the postmaster general Colonel Hudson burst into the ether, announcing for the first time “This is Jerusalem Calling”, followed by a Hebrew translation and a speech by the High Commissioner Sir Arthur Grenfell Wauchope, who officially inaugurated the Palestine Broadcasting Service. Music was part of public broadcasted content from its very inception, even more so in the years of the British Mandate, since the admitted policy was not to involve any political content whatsoever. The first musical sounds that were heard on that occasion were those of the piano of Erich (Aryeh) Sachs, who played an introduction to a song sung by Chaim Vittorio Weinberg.
Initially, the musical needs of the young radio station were supplied by the small Chamber Orchestra of the Palestine Broadcasting Service, which was directed by the singer-conductor Kar’el Salmon (originally Karl Salomon).
Since then, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra (JSO) has played a crucial role in shaping and developing the cultural sphere of the State of Israel.
The orchestra in its early years. Photo taken at the Palestine Broadcasting Service studio in Jerusalem, July 1947, after a performance of Schumann's Piano Concerto with young Menachem Pressler. The orchestra's founder, Karel Salmon standing second right from microphone.
Over the years, the JSO has hosted major musicians from Israel and around the world, including: Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Rubinstein, Yehudi Menuhin, Mstislav Rostropovich, Pablo Casals, Isaac Stern, Krzysztof Penderecki, and Yefim Bronfman. The orchestra tours extensively, performing on the world’s most prestigious stages, including Carnegie Hall, Vienna Music Hall, Cologne Philharmonic Hall, as well as other venues throughout North America, Europe, and Japan.
1964: Igor Stravinsky works with the JSO.
Since 1948, the has been an integral part of the Israeli Broadcasting Association (IBA). However, in 2017 the government disbanded the IBA and launched the new Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, which excluded all orchestral activities.
Now an independent non-profit, the JSO articulated an inspiring vision, crafted a new plan, and launched an international fundraising campaign to support its new initiatives.
December 2020 marked one year since the JSO Board approved a new strategy, which included an ambitious expansion and the creation of an international fundraising program. After the dissolution of the Israeli Broadcasting Authority in 2017, the loss of funding has been an imminent threat to the organization's existence – therefore, the new plan was a real breath of fresh air for everyone inside and outside the organization. Moreover, the appointments of the new Music Director Steven Sloane and the new CEO Ofer Amsalem generated a lot of hope and excitement.
The work on the fundraising campaign began in January, but came to a sudden halt in just two months, when the world was taken over by the COVID-19 pandemic. Defying the odds, we have made a unanimous decision to carry on with the expansion and building a new fundraising campaign - despite the global crisis.
The JSO Foundation – an international fundraising program – was created amid the pandemic, the lockdowns, and revenue losses. It has been an uphill battle, but we were united in everything – from volunteering for pay cuts to working twice as hard as before. Our musicians have pre-recorded multiple concerts in order to keep the broadcasting uninterrupted during the lockdowns; live music performances were organized at various locations across the city, including multiple retirement residencies; the “Quarantine Stars” online competition was launched for the aspiring singers stranded at home; several international tours, an exhibition, and a documentary film about the JSO have been planned for the future years; the orchestra was featured in three festivals, announced a new season, formed new partnerships, and even recorded the National Anthem of the United Arab Emirates to celebrate the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement.
After months of appeals and rejections, countless phone calls and Zoom meetings, this initiative attracted attention from donors, sponsors, and foundations from Israel, The Americas, and Europe. Thanks to the hard and relentless work of the musicians and staff, our organization is much stronger now than it was before the pandemic.
While many of our peers worldwide are being forced to close their doors, we feel blessed with the miracles that are happening to us – and we invite you to join our wonderful JSO Family by making a meaningful donation today.
Fill your heart with light, joy, and the much-needed hope that miracles do happen, especially during the most challenging times!