Leonard Bernstein opened the Israel Philharmonic's Kennedy Center concert on Saturday night with "The Star Spangled Banner," following it with "Hatikvah," the Israel anthem. Had the fortunes of the Camp David meetings required it, a complete set of orchestral parts for the Egyptian national anthem was also in the house.
Even without their presence in the auditorium, the work of the leaders of Israel, Egypt and the United States could not be forgotten during the evening.In Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, at the outset, Norman Scribner's Choral Arts Society sang, "Why do the nations rage and the people imagine a vain thing?" And at its close came the visionary answer, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity."
In between, a sensitive young countertenor carrying the famous Quaker name of Trueblood sang, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." As if all this were not enough to remind the listeners of the importance of the meetings in Thurmont, Md., there followed the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven, with the chorus in overwhelming affirmation, "All men are brothers!" If music could solve our international dilemmas, Saturday night's concert would have settled everything.
Bernstein and the Israel musicians have a 30-year association of the most intimate kind. The orchestra was brilliant in the Psalms, which they have only recently recorded with the composer-conductor. It is glorious music, and with Scribner's chorus (also long-time friends of Bernstein's), the performance was thrilling.
The Beethoven Ninth is like one of the Himalayas, always challenging, never to be taken for granted, constantly offering new, taxing facets. Bernstein led it with great freedom in feeling, expressed in flexible tempos, deliberate emphases of signal junctures and moments of expressive beauty. The chorus was superb throughout the grueling pages, while the solo quartet of Susan Wyner, Rosalind Elias, Neil Shicoff and Michael Devlin handled their roles effectively. Despite minor problems, the orchestra's response was excellent.