Israelis play first ever Wagner concert in Germany

By Toby Axelrod, July 26, 2011
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In Israeli orchestra has played a work by Adolf Hitler's beloved composer, Richard Wagner, for the first time in Germany.

On Monday, the Israel Chamber Orchestra performed Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll" at the Bayreuth Wagner Festival. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was among those in the audience. The concert in the Stadthalle was reportedly a sell-out.

But not all were happy to hear about it. Wagner is known to have been antisemitic, and since 1938 there has been a tacit ban on playing his works in Israel.

Some have tried to break the taboo: In 2001, Jerusalem audiences walked out on Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim - general music director of the Berlin State Opera and the Staatskapelle Berlin - when he led the latter in playing an excerpt of "Tristan und Isolde."

This May, upon learning of the ICO's plans in Bayreuth, Danny Danon, chair of the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, pushed to have the orchestra's public funding slashed.

But soon afterwards, Limor Livnat, Israel's culture and sport minister, said no orchestra would be punished for its choice of repertoire.

This week, Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, told AFP the Bayreuth concert was "an act of moral failure and a disgraceful abandonment of solidarity" with victims of the Holocaust.

But Jonathan Livni, who has started a Wagner Appreciation Society in Israel, told reporters he hoped the concert in Bayreuth would help open the way for performances of Wagner in Israel.

Conductor Roberto Paternostro hopes so, too. He told Ha'aretz that he saw "this concert as a starting point," but that he did not want to start putting on Wagner concerts in Israel. "We didn't want to provoke anyone."

He also said he had received many "insulting responses," including attacks on him as a "foreigner". Paternostro, who is Jewish, was born in Vienna. His family emigrated from Austria to Palestine in the 1930s.

Last updated: 1:17pm, July 26 2011