Orchestra of Exiles – Movie Review

The story of one of the greatest orchestras in the world, born out of one of the worst tragedies of the 20th century, the holocaust.

Josh Aronson’s latest film is the story of Bronislaw Huberman’s founding of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra. Not only did he found the orchestra during a period of unmatched social and political upheaval, he saved the lives of a thousand Jews in doing it.

Born in Poland on 1882, Huberman was a violin prodigy who played for Brahms at age twelve. Young Huberman was driven by his father to be the greatest violinist in the world, as much to provide for his family as to benefit humankind. When his father died, the now internationally famous musician cancelled his concerts and attended the Sorbonne for two years.

Denied a childhood, the man grasped at the vibrant education of the elite university and somewhere deep inside an idea was born. Perhaps not as much an idea as a germinating inspiration. Some day he would found an orchestra that would light up the world.

After his father’s death and his education at the Sorbonne, Huberman continued to gain fame and fortune as a classical violinist. As he came to know some of the most powerful people in the world, he lived in the midst of the most awesome, and awful, transformation in the world. To his disbelief and the disbelief of the loyal German musicians around him, Germany was adopting Nazism. Across the country and the region, doors were closing to Jews, especially the educated geniuses who made up the classical orchestras of Europe.

Leaders in the arts and sciences tried to reverse this trend to no avail. Becoming familiar with the Zionist movement in Palestine, Huberman and others developed the idea of a Palestinian orchestra that could be made up of the finest musicians on the western world. Those musicians that had been ostracized because of their faith. This idea would eventually crystalize into the Palestinian Symphony orchestra that would become the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra.

Huberman literally handpicked the members of the orchestra after auditioning hundreds of professional musicians. He knew he had to have the best if the new orchestra was to survive. The Palestine nation was a harsh place to live and there was little extra money to fund the 19th century fineries of Austria, Poland and Germany. The music that was produced had to be indisputably among the finest anybody could listen to, anywhere.

As the auditions wound down and the slots in Huberman’s orchestra wall chart were filled, the thrust of the effort took on a new color. Having gained the faith and commitment of the musicians, he now had to arrange for their immigration to Palestine. This was a difficult task, at best, as the area was the source of political upheaval itself and opinions swayed with the political winds from day to day as to its future.

First granted permanent resident status, the father of the IPO saw these rights of its musicians slip through his fingers as uprisings and international dithering weakened the resolve of the world powers leading the charge in the Middle East. In the course of fighting, and winning, permanent resident status for the musicians of the IPO, Huberman also gained immigration status for a thousand other Jews that enabled them to leave Europe on the eve of the holocaust and avoid the fate of their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters who were left behind.

A few of the IPO musicians could not bear the harsh life in Palestine and returned home to Europe, most to their deaths in the concentration camps.

Huberman himself was a controversial figure. Denied a childhood, he was never a model father. Driven by a combination of ego and pure will to survive, he extended that will to others in the artistic community and enabled their survival, as well.

The latest of nine film and TV documentaries and series, “Orchestra of Exiles” ranks with director Aronson’s Oscar nominated “Sound and Fury” (Best documentary, 2000). The archival footage and interviews with Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta, Pinchas Zukerman and Joshua Bell and a host of other legends are priceless. The story of Huberman’s stolen Stradivarius, now played by Bell, alone, is worth the price of admission.

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Directed and Written by: Josh Aronson
Starring: Chris Kardos, Yelena Shmulenson and Itzhak Perlman
Release Date: October 26, 2012
MPAA: Not Rated
Run Time: 85 minutes
Country: USA / Israel
Language: English
Color: Color and Black and White archival