Aharon Zvi Propes initiated three outstanding international musical events in Israel: the Zimriya, ‘World Assembly of Choirs’, The Israel Festival and the International Harp Contest.
He had already considered a choir festival as early as 1935, but because of the Second World War the first Zimriya could take place only in 1952.The Israel Festival was part of Israel’s 10th Anniversary celebrations. These three musical events continue to the present day.
In connection with Israel’s 10th Anniversary and in order to encourage more people to visit Israel, he investigated to discover which musical instrument had no international competition. He was delighted to learn that there was no harp competition anywhere and immediately referred to King David’s harp playing.
As the first Contest in 1959 approached, Mr. Propes compiled a list of world-famous harpists, as well as other prominent persons in the music domain, and toured the world to meet with them personally and to gain their consent to sit on the Jury during the forthcoming Contest in Israel. At the same opportunity he consulted with them to choose the set repertoire for the first Contest.
This precious assembly of harpists bestowed a great deal of prestige on the Contest and ensured its internationality: Maria Korchinska (England), Pierre Jamet (France), Phia Berghout (Holland), Clelia Gatti Aldrovandi (Italy), Vera Dulova (Russia), Nicanor Zabaleta (Spain), Lucile Johnson Rosenbloom, Lucile Lawrence and Eileen Malone (USA), Marcel Grandjany and Carlos Salzedo (USA and France).
They were among the greatest harpists of their time and one could only dream of having them come together to judge a harp contest; harpists and educators of world fame, who joined forces and met for the first time ever. Without these celebrities of the harp there would have been no Contest, professionally speaking. In addition to the artistic personalities, Propes ‘annexed’ en route eminent sponsors, without whom the Contest could not have existed financially.
There remained only the Prize: Lyon & Healy, harp builders in Chicago, responded by offering a Concert Grand Style 23 Harp as First Prize. The collaboration with Lyon & Healy continues today.
Aharon Zvi Propes, born in Latvia in 1904, graduated from the Hebrew High School in Riga. He studied law in Czechoslovakia at the University of Prague. For about 25 years, until he settled in Israel in 1949, he was active in the education of Zionist youth and was one of the founders and leaders of the Betar Movement.
In Israel he was appointed Director of Special Events in the Ministry of Tourism. In this capacity he was responsible for the founding of several cultural bodies and the inception of numerous events which were greatly praised.
Early in January 1978, Propes fainted on his way back to his home in Tel Aviv’s Shadal Street. He was immediately taken to hospital where he died a few days later, on the 10th of January. After Propes’ death, the Government of Israel declared that his three major enterprises would carry the addition: Founded by A Z Propes to their names.
A Street on the outskirts of Tel Aviv bears his name, as well as streets in Jerusalem and Haifa. The A.Z. Propes Prize, for the best performance of an Israeli composition, is offered at every Contest.
Propes indeed placed Israel’s culture on the international stage.