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Israeli orchestra to play Wagner in Germany

An Israeli orchestra is set to perform a work by Adolf Hitler's favorite composer, Richard Wagner, in a taboo-breaking concert in Germany.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An Israeli orchestra is set to perform a work by Adolf Hitler's favorite composer, Richard Wagner, in a taboo-breaking concert in Germany.

The Israel Chamber Orchestra's concert in Wagner's hometown alongside the annual Bayreuth opera festival on Tuesday will mark the first time an Israeli orchestra has played Wagner in Germany, Nicolaus Richter, the head of Bayreuth city's cultural affairs department, said Monday.

The orchestra started rehearsing the Wagner piece, the Siegfrid Idyll, only upon their arrival in Germany Sunday due to the sensitivities in Israel.

"They didn't rehearse it at home in order not to create any resistance," Richter said.

The concert is set to begin with Israel's national anthem, "Hatikva," and will also feature music by composers banned by the Third Reich, including Gustav Mahler and Felix Mendelssohn.

The orchestra will be led by Roberto Paternostro, whose mother survived the Nazi genocide. He is a friend of Katharina Wagner, a great-granddaughter of Wagner and co-director of the Bayreuth festival.

"About a year and a half ago Paternostro had contacted Katharina Wagner about the idea of performing during the Bayreuth Festival," Richter said. "Wagner thought it was a great idea, and it also is a sign of coming to terms with the past," he added.

Orchestra Chief Executive Eran Hershkovitz said there is a "great pride and great excitement" ahead of the performance for him and the ensemble's 34 musicians, many of whom are children of Holocaust survivors.

"This is not just another concert. It is a once-in a lifetime concert, a victory concert," he said. "Because of the things that Wagner wrote, to come here, a group of Jewish musicians from the state of the Jews ... it is the best response and proof that they did not succeed and will not succeed."

Since its founding in 1948, Israel has observed an informal ban on Wagner's music because of its use in Nazi propaganda before and during World War II. The Wagner family also had close connections to the German fascists and their ideology, and performances of the 19th-century composer are kept off Israeli stages and airwaves out of respect to the country's 220,000 Holocaust survivors.

Some 6 million Jews were systematically murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators in Europe during the war.

Elan Steinberg, deputy head of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, condemned the performance as a "disgraceful abandonment of solidarity with those who suffered unspeakable horrors by the purveyors of Wagner's banner."

However, the concert won't be the first Wagner performance by an Israeli orchestra. In 2001, world-renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim angered many Israelis when he played some of Wagner's music in Israel.

The Bayreuth festival is Germany's most important festival for classical music. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and many other prominent personalities regularly visit the annual event, which was founded by Wagner himself in 1876.

Israel and West Germany established diplomatic ties in 1965, two decades after the end of World War II. Since then, Germany has become Israel's second-largest trading partner and has paid some $40 billion in reparations to Holocaust survivors in Israel.


Aron Heller in Jerusalem contributed to this report.