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Israelis Cancel U.S. Tour

July 31, 2002|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, famed for its commitment to performing under adverse conditions, has scrubbed an August tour with singer-pianist Michael Feinstein to eight U.S. cities, including an Aug. 26 date at the Hollywood Bowl.

Though early reports from Jerusalem attributed the cancellations to the orchestra's inability to arrange security or insurance, the orchestra's representatives in the U.S. denied that and said the move had more to do with slow ticket sales. Suzanne Ponsot, executive director of the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, said the move was forced by the withdrawal of four venues controlled by SFX Entertainment, a subsidiary of the entertainment conglomerate Clear Channel. SFX officials declined comment.

Ponsot said she understood that the Clear Channel/SFX venues in Cleveland, Chicago, Denver and San Francisco "felt they had a poor response" in advance ticket sales.

In planning for the August performance dates, Ponsot said, the tour's producers had lined up a private security firm in addition to the orchestra's in-house security and insurance specialists. Though one prospective insurer had hesitated in talks with organizers, Ponsot said, the producers did not expect any problems securing necessary coverage, and SFX venues never cited insurance as an issue.

"They pulled the plug," said the tour's co-producer, Allen Sviridoff, speaking of the SFX venues. "One of the elements was slow ticket sales." As for other reasons, he said, "you have to ask them directly."

Though Ponsot dismissed the idea that audiences might be intimidated by the possibility of terrorists targeting the orchestra, Sviridoff said he did believe a "fear factor" figured in the sluggish ticket sales in several cities.

At the Shoreline Amphitheater, a Silicon Valley venue booked by Bill Graham Presents (a subsidiary of SFX Entertainment), publicity manager Joan Rosenberg said of the performance: "It's just been canceled. We're not giving a reason at this point."

The orchestra last toured the U.S. in January, when it played to full or nearly full houses in New York (including two nights in Carnegie Hall) and Philadelphia. Ponsot said that visit was unmarred by any worries about security or insurance. She noted that the orchestra has made it a point of pride to maintain its schedule.

Thirty-five years ago, in the early aftermath of the Six-Day War, the orchestra's musicians took up positions on Jerusalem's Mt. Scopus and played a concert with violinist Isaac Stern and conductor Leonard Bernstein. Eleven years ago, when Iraq was lobbing scud missiles toward Israel in the Gulf War, the orchestra's players sat down again with Stern, this time under the baton of Zubin Mehta, to play a concert with gas masks at hand.

The orchestra is scheduled to return to the U.S. (without Feinstein) for New York performances in January, and a December 2003 tour will include Los Angeles and New York and several other stops, Ponsot said.

In addition to the Hollywood Bowl dates, Feinstein and the orchestra were to perform in Columbus, Ohio (Aug. 20); Cleveland (Aug. 21); Chicago (Aug. 22); Detroit (Aug. 24); Denver (Aug. 25); the Shoreline Amphitheater in Silicon Valley (Aug. 27); and Seattle (Aug. 28).

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