Israeli Orchestra Gives Unprecedented Wagner Performance in Germany

Posted July 26th, 2011 at 3:45 pm (UTC-5)
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An Israeli orchestra visiting Germany has given an unprecedented performance of a piece by Richard Wagner, a 19th-century composer whose music was used in Nazi propaganda before and during World War Two.

The Israel Chamber Orchestra performed Wagner's “Siegfried Idyll” on Tuesday, at the end of a two-hour concert in the southeastern German town of Bayreuth, the composer's home. The 34-member ensemble also performed works by Jewish-born composers Gustav Mahler and Felix Mendelssohn, whose works were banned by the Nazis.

Israel has largely upheld an informal ban on Wagner's music since the country's creation in 1948, because of the composer's anti-Semitic writings and the appropriation of his music by Adolf Hitler's Nazi movement.

Tuesday's concert won loud applause from the audience and coincided with the annual Beyreuth opera festival. The concert also was the first by an Israeli orchestra in Germany to include a Wagner piece.

Members of the Israel Chamber Orchestra said they wanted to perform Wagner because he was a gifted composer. The ensemble did not start rehearsing the piece until arriving in Germany to avoid upsetting Israelis at home.

But, the performance drew criticism from a U.S. Jewish organization, the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants. The group says the orchestra was “tone deaf to the anguish of victims who lived through the instrumentalization of Wagner's music in the service of spreading hate.”

The Nazis murdered 6 million Jews during World War Two.

Orchestra chief executive Eran Hershkovitz defended the concert, saying the performing of Wagner's music in Germany by an ensemble that includes children of Holocaust survivors represents a “victory” for the Jewish people.