The Israel Chamber Orchestra plans to perform a composition by Richard Wagner in Germany, breaking an Israel taboo against playing the anti-Semitic composer’s music.
The ensemble will play “Siegfried’s Idyll” in the Bavarian town of Bayreuth at an annual festival devoted to Wagner’s work. Wagner, who lived from 1813 to 1883, is buried in Bayreuth, where festivals celebrating his operas have long been held.
Since its founding, Israel has had an unofficial ban against playing music by Wagner, whose anti-Semitism was public. His music and writings were long admired by Hitler and featured in Nazi propaganda.
From an early age Hitler was a devoted follower of Wagner and drew on the composer’s work to build his own ideology. He attended the Bayreuth festival every summer from 1933 to 1939.
“At the age of twelve,” Hitler wrote in “Mein Kampf,” “I saw … the first opera of my life, ‘Lohengrin.’ … I was addicted. My youthful enthusiasm for the Bayreuth Master knew no bounds.”
In 2000, Israel’s Lezion Orchestra, led by Holocaust survivor Mendi Rodan, played Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll,” and in 2001, members of the Knesset called for a ban on performances by David Barenboim after the Argentina-born Israeli pianist and conductor performed a piece from “Tristan and Isolde.”
Dan Erdmann, a clarinetist in the Israel Orchestra, told Haaretz that “We have tried to treat the delicate points with sensitivity, and I hope in the future we will play [Wagner] also in Israel.”
“However,” he added, “the conflicts and emotions associated with the history of Wagner are exactly those which make it special for us.”
Out of respect for the public dispute, the ensemble chose not to rehearse the piece within Israel, and the performance was made optional for its members. All but one of the orchestra’s 36 members is participating.
The orchestra’s concert also will include works by Israeli composer Zvi Avni, as well as Germany’s Felix Mendelssohn and Austria’s Gustav Mahler, both of whom were banned by the Nazis.
Roberto Paternostro, the orchestra’s conductor and a descendant of Holocaust survivors, believes that the taboo’s time is coming to an end, although he believes not enough time has passed for an Israel performance.
“The aim in 2011 is to distinguish between the man and his art,” he said.
Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, condemned the performance as “an act of moral failure and a disgraceful abandonment of solidarity with those who suffered unspeakable horrors by the purveyors of Wagner’s banner.”
“Artists, like all persons, must be held accountable for their propagation of hate against humanity.”