Jerusalem — A man stormed the stage at a Jerusalem symposium on composer Richard Wagner and hurled insults at the audience in a protest over the German maestro’s associations with the Nazis.
Ushers at Tuesday’s event struggled to restrain the strongly built protester, a man in his late 30s who gave his name as Ran Carmi. Ignoring shouted demands to leave the stage, he sang the Israel national anthem and yelled abuse, referring to at least one usher as a “Nazi collaborator”.
Wagner was Adolf Hitler’s favourite composer and his music is hardly ever performed in Israel, where for many it revives memories of the Holocaust.
Yair Stern, director general of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, tried to calm the intruder, but was met with insults. “You defile the memory of your father, who was murdered so I could speak here today,” Carmi said.
Stern’s father, Avraham, was a right-wing Jewish underground leader who was shot dead by British police officers in pre-state Palestine in 1942 when it was under the administration of the British mandate.
The small audience of some 70 people eventually abandoned the Henry Crown Symphony Hall, leaving Carmi facing 765 empty seats until police arrived and removed him through a side entrance.
The discussion was to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Wagner, whose anti-Semitic ideology was shared by Hitler and his National Socialist followers.
A commemorative concert was to have taken place on Wednesday but was cancelled earlier because of bad weather. Because of the unofficial ban on Wagner’s music, it would have featured works by composers who inspired or were influenced by him, including Beethoven, Weber, Debussy and Chausson.
The concert was called off because it was unable to complete rehearsals due to a heavy weekend snowstorm and poor ticket sales, Stern said.
‘ACT OF THUGGERY’
Michael Wolpe, an Israeli composer and a panellist at the symposium, said Carmi had carried out an act of thuggery by trying to silence a learned discussion. He likened it to Wagner’s own behaviour.
“What this thug did to us today is what Wagner did to (Giacomo) Meyerbeer with total success, wiping out any memory of his existence,” Wolpe said.
Wagner was known to despise Meyerbeer, a Jewish-born German contemporary who wrote a number of grand operas that are today far less well known that Wagner’s own works.
The orchestra’s French conductor and music director, Frederic Chaslin, said the discussion and the concert were not intended as a celebration of Wagner, but a chance to air the problematic history of the composer.
“If we ignore the fact that Wagner (was born) 200 years ago, we ignore a big problem that is part of this society,” Chaslin told Reuters.
Stern said the concert probably would not be rescheduled because only a few tickets were sold.
“Had we played Wagner, I’m sure that the auditorium would have been over-booked,” he said. “I don’t think we will hold another concert of this type in the near future.”