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A Talk With The Executive Director of the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic

Ponsot and Mehta (Photo by American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic/used with permission)
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The American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic is a non-profit organization dedicated to sustaining the financial future of the Israel Philharmonic, and the AFIPO allows for the Israel Philharmonic to come to the United States to perform on a regular basis. The orchestra will be in town next Tuesday, the 30th, led by former Los Angeles Philharmonic director Zubin Mehta. We spoke with Suzanne Ponsot, the executive director of the organization.LAist: Tell us a little bit about the organization
Suzanne Ponsot: The organization's goal/mission is to raise funds and awareness for the unique role the orchestra plays in both the musical arena and as Israel's cultural ambassador.

Quite an illustrious board of directors! I see Emanuel Ax, Yefim Bronfman, Pinchas Zukerman... How did you get them on board (pun not intended)?

The Israel Philharmonic itself is really the attraction. Individuals throughout North America (and the world, really) have a significant interest in music and appreciate and/or value Israel. They were attracted to it since it's a non-political organization, an ambassador without words. The orchestra represents so many things to so many different people and they've been happy to contribute. I was at Carnegie Hall for eight years before I joined the AFIPO, and I found that so many people that loved music and cared about Israel did not even know an organization like this existed and got involved, given personal support, and/or recruited others to do the same. It's evolved in a very positive way and we're looking forward to help the next generation to take over.

In what ways do you support the Israel Phil?
I probably should start by saying we respond to what the orchestra needs and it actually runs as a cooperative. In the last 20 years their economic needs have changed from fundraising for the endowment, and for projects like touring. Today we give an annual commitment to the orchestra's operating budget, underwrite the North American tour, and are significant funders of their educational program KeyNote, and a community based educational program in different communities for the underprivileged and at-risk kids. It's very similar to El Sistema. We also do respond when the orchestra has particular needs for commissioning new works and support students that are sitting side by side or substitute from the Conservatory and a number of other projects.

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We've partnered with our Israel friends to respond and there's always something to do. Our orchestra members are full-time members AND part of the management (since it's run as a cooperative), and many teach as well. Here in America, our staff are very fortunate to support their efforts.

Zubin Mehta is celebrating his 50th anniversary this year to mark his debut as music director of the LA Phil...are you involved in that?

It's very similar since he was our music director in New York for 13 years and we celebrated last year in New York, London, and Vienna. Los Angeles is a home for Mehta and I know he's going to get a heartwarming response, and the concert might be sold out, as they usually do (ed. note: it's not, but all the good seats are taken! Here is a link).

How can people support or get involved with the AFIPO? I know money always helps but...

We like to think if an individual is traveling to Israel or if they're involved in an organization, a wonderful way is to introduce their friends or to attend one of the Israel Phil's concerts. Also, in the past we've been very fortunate to have those that own extraordinary string instruments gift or permanently loan these valuable instruments to the Israel Phil, and that is also important. We're talking about those that belong in the hands of a talented musician that might not be able to afford it otherwise. Another way is to think about it as a gift as part of their estate planning, and we're also going to have a brand new seven DVD set that will be released shortly. People can go on our website (after November 1st and we'll have information about that).

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The next significant milestone is when the orchestra reopens their concert hall in Tel Aviv, on May the 25th, and we are also planning a trip and we encourage people to sign up for our e-mails or call our offices for more information about the festival and events going on. While in Israel, they can also visit and see for themselves the educational programs and community outreach, and the important work the Israel Phil does not just around the world but in the community as well.