No more horn but lots of gratitude: Israeli musician praises early Pittsburgh days
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ProfileSally Meth Ben Moshe

No more horn but lots of gratitude: Israeli musician praises early Pittsburgh days

From Squirrel Hill to Israel Philharmonic, Sally Meth Ben Moshe reflects on orchestral life

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Zubin Mehta joins Sally Meth Ben Moshe during a concert intermission to celebrate her 60th birthday. Photo courtesy of Sally Meth Ben Moshe
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Zubin Mehta joins Sally Meth Ben Moshe during a concert intermission to celebrate her 60th birthday. Photo courtesy of Sally Meth Ben Moshe

Sally Meth Ben Moshe sold her horn. The professional musician, who recently retired from the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, said that 50 years after her father first bought the instrument from former Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra member Howard Hillyer, it was time to part ways.

“The French horn is an instrument that, if you let it go for a short period of time, it’s not a friend anymore … It’s kind of a fickle instrument,” Ben Moshe said. “You really have to work at it to keep it up.”

For half a century, the former Squirrel Hill resident did just that.

After receiving her first French horn at age 13, Ben Moshe played at Taylor Allderdice High School and Indiana University. A decade later, she accepted a job as second horn in the Jerusalem Symphony and, four years after that, she was hired to play low horn in the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra — where she stayed for 36 years.

The double-chai span enabled Ben Moshe — a self-described Rodef Shalom kid who grew up on Beechwood Boulevard in Squirrel Hill — to see the world. As a member of Israel Philharmonic, she visited Japan 11 times and Australia thrice.

French horn image by ClaraDon via creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/2.0/jp/?ref=openverse.

There were trips to South America, Russia and Europe. London, Salzburg, Paris and Berlin were all memorable, Ben Moshe said, but perhaps no venue was more unforgettable than Auschwitz — the concentration camp where 1 million Jews were killed between 1940 and 1945.

Israel Philharmonic visited the death camp during a tour of Hungary and Poland in November 1987.

As a lead-up to the Polish performances, which were Israel Philharmonic’s first in the country, conductor Zubin Mehta told JTA that the shows were intended to ignite emotion: “I also hope a few consciences in Poland will be pricked when they see what Polish culture would have been like if the Jews were still there.”

Before arriving in Auschwitz, Israel Philharmonic considered playing “Hatikvah.” After entering the concentration camp, however, the orchestra decided not to perform at all.

According to the Associated Press, Israel’s ambassador to Warsaw, Mordechai Palzur, said the orchestra’s silence would “reverberate not only through the Judean Hills and Jerusalem but all over the world.”

Thirty-five years later, that silence is still ringing.

Ben Moshe described the intensity of visiting Auschwitz on a frigid Friday in November: “It was an extremely emotional day,” she told the Chronicle. “It was miserably cold, just like it might have been then, and here we are.”

While at the concentration camp, Israel Philharmonic participated in a brief ceremony. The group recited the Kaddish, observed a moment of silence, laid wreaths and lit memorial candles. Quickly thereafter, the orchestra’s 100 members departed for their next show.

Israel Philharmonic doesn’t play on Shabbat, so to make it to the hotel in time for the Saturday night performance, everyone had to move, Ben Moshe said.

The group hurriedly traveled from Auschwitz by rail.

“It was absolutely surreal,” Ben Moshe said. “We were Jews on a train in Poland on a Friday night after having been at Auschwitz … Somebody took out a flask and we passed it around.”

On Saturday night, Itzhak Perlman joined the orchestra in Warsaw to perform Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto.

Ben Moshe remembers the show and her feelings about the entire tour: “I personally hated every second of it. I wanted to get out of there,” she said. “I didn’t want to spend an extra nickel in that country … it’s a Jewish graveyard.”

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Yeugene, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Many moments have marked Ben Moshe’s distinguished musical career, but well before playing with Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman or other 20th-century titans, she was a child pianist in Squirrel Hill.

Around age 6 she learned to play from Marie Maazel, mother of conductor Loren Maazel. Seven years later, Ben Moshe swapped piano for French horn after Allderdice band director Henry Dipasquale handed her the brass apparatus with a flared end.

“Mrs. Maazel never forgave me for changing instruments,” Ben Moshe said. “She thought I was going to be a great pianist.”

Despite disappointing Maazel, the early lessons proved valuable. Both in Japan and Tel Aviv, Ben Moshe was called upon by the orchestra to play piano with Leonard Bernstein on “West Side Story Suite.”

“It was out of necessity. Someone took sick, and they needed someone to sit in the chair. They came to me and said, ‘Would you do it,” Ben Moshe recalled. “It was quite an honor. The first half of the concert I played the piano; the second half I sat in the horn section and played Brahms symphony.”

Since retiring from Israel Philharmonic four years ago, Ben Moshe, 67, has returned to playing piano. In her Kfar Saba home, she still has a few instruments. The French horns she once owned are gone, but her gratitude for the instrument and the instruction she received remain.

“I just feel very grateful for the path that Pittsburgh put me on: the education that I got at Rodef Shalom, the education that I got in high school and the exposure to all the things that I was exposed to,” she said. “I feel very blessed to grow up in Pittsburgh.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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