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Philharmonic Sounds Sour Note but Comes Through in the Finale

August 13, 1984
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The New York Philharmonic Orchestra has dropped plans to perform in Malaysia after a storm of protest from American Jewish leaders and political figures here to the Philharmonic’s bowing to the request of the Malaysian government to drop the work of a Jewish composer from its scheduled program.

The orchestra, under the baton of Zubin Mehta, who is also music director of the Israel Philharmonic, was to have performed in Malaysia early next month. Among the works to be performed included that of Emest Bloch, a Jewish composer who was born in Switzerland in 1880 and who died an American citizen in the United States in 1959. The score he composed in 1916 and which was to have been performed was “Schelomo,” subtitled “A Hebrew Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra. “But the Malaysian government protested the inclusion of the Bloch piece, noting government policy against the “screening, portrayal or musical presentation of works of Jewish origin.”

Malaysia, a predominantly Moslem country, did not voice opposition to the inclusion of works of other Jewish composers in the program, such as Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland. In cancelling the Bloch piece late last week, the Philharmonic acknowledged deferring to the wishes of the host country.

But after bowing to the Malaysian request, the Orchestra and Citibank, which is sponsoring the Philharmonic’s Asian tour, were deluged with criticism and decided to cancel the scheduled stop-over in Malaysia. Outraged Jewish leaders and political figures blasted the Malaysian request as cultural blackmail, reminiscent of Nazi book-burning, and cultural anti-Semitism. Some of the critics later praised the Philharmonic after it announced that it would not perform in Malaysia.

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