David Bar-Ilan (1930-2003), Z" (L)

By Miller, Philip E. | Midstream, July-August 2005 | Go to article overview

David Bar-Ilan (1930-2003), Z" (L)


Miller, Philip E., Midstream


The obituary page of The New York Times for November 5, 2003 carried an obituary for David Bar-Ilan, who had been a spokesman for Israel's Right-Wing Likud Party. Well before his involvement in politics, he was a concert pianist, who, many critics and I feel, never received his due. I certainly do not share his political or ideological view, but I mourn his passing, for he was part of my youth.

Valentine's Day in 1965 fell on a Sunday, and I had two tickets for a recital that day by Bar-Ilan at Georgetown University's Gaston Hall. I really had no idea who he was, other than the fact that he was Israeli, and I had seen his face on the jacket of a recording. The recital was simply one of a half-dozen or so sponsored by the University's Collegium Musicum. And I recall that my date for that afternoon was a young woman named McCollough whom I had dated because we shared a passion for classical music.

Valentine's Day in 1965 was also the day a horrific blizzard hit Washington DC. Not having far to travel since we lived on-campus, and oblivious of the weather, the two of us trudged to Gaston Hall at the appointed hour. Gaston Hall is a lovely small auditorium that seats perhaps 250 souls, making it perfect for recitals, with gold and dark-hued wooden paneling heightening the hall's intimacy.

When we arrived, we were nonplussed to see that we were among perhaps two dozen stalwarts who weathered the storm in order to attend the recital. Although the recital was sold out, the very small audience made us wonder if the recital would go on at all. But at the appointed hour, Bar-Ilan made his entrance. His face fell as he stopped in his tracks, seeing less than one row filled. But as quickly as he showed his disappointment, he threw back his shoulders and smiled at us. Approaching the footlights, he addressed us in flawless English, thanking us for braving the storm for what was actually his Washington DC debut.

The recital that followed was certainly unorthodox, for before and after each piece, he spoke to us about the piece, pointing out what he felt the composer was trying to express. In brief, we enjoyed both a formal recital and an informal lecture.

Afterwards, 'there was a reception for Bar-Ilan given by the Collegium Musicum. Although a university-sponsored activity, it was exclusive and elitist. One needed to be nominated for membership, and prospective members could be blackballed. I never aspired to be a member of this group for obvious reasons.

Ms. McCollough wanted to hear me speak Hebrew, which I did poorly, only having lived in Israel three months during the previous summer. But I admit that I also wanted to impress her. So we crashed the reception, which was peopled by Jesuit priests and by the members of this snobbish group, all uniformly attired in their Georgetown blazers and school ties. I cannot say now if it was planned or not on my part, but I too was wearing my Georgetown blazer and school tie, so my presence did not immediately seem irregular.

I approached Maestro Bar-Ilan, who was surrounded by well-wishers, and when my turn came, I introduced Ms. McCollough and myself in Hebrew. At that moment the hue and cry went up that I was a crasher, and several chubbies made the move to eject me from the room. Maestro Bar-Ilan held up his hand to stay them, and said in Hebrew that he would not remain at the reception if his translator were forced to leave.

For the next half-hour, people fielded questions to him, some rather technical, which I would then attempt to render into Hebrew. This was rather funny, as his English was as good as anyone's in the room. And he gave his answers in a highly anglicized Hebrew so I could "translate," for him. Our farewells at the end of the afternoon were warm, and I felt that I had been in the presence of a talented artist who was also a very kind gentleman.

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