Israel’s Principal Viola

The Fellowship  |  August 10, 2018

Odon Partos

Lived: October 1, 1907 – July 6, 1977

Why you should know him: An Israeli pilot violist, composer, and teacher, Partos won the coveted Israel Prize.

Born in to a Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary, Odon Partos studied at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, before taking the position of Principal Violinist in Lucerne. After also playing in other European orchestras, including Berlin, Partos returned to his hometown after Hitler took power in 1934.

In 1936, Bronislaw Huberman founded the Palestine Orchestra in the Holy Land, which would later be renamed the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Huberman recruited many Jewish musicians who had been threatened by the Nazis’ rise, including Partos. But Partos could not at the time, having already signed a contract with the USSR. But after the USSR tried to make him join the Communist Party, Partos left and finally took the role of Principal Viola in the Holy Land, making aliyah (immigrating) in 1938.

For the next 18 years, Partos was the Israel Philharmonic’s principal viola, while also playing solo pieces in the Holy Land and around the world. He also helped form the Samuel Rubin Israel Academy of Music in Tel Aviv in 1946 and the Thelma Yellin High School of Art in 1959, holding the position of director of the former until his death.

Among the most important composers of Israel, as well, Partos was the first musical honoree of the Israel Prize, winning the award in 1954.