October 5, 2010 / 2:32 PM / 8 years ago

Israeli orchestra set to play at Wagner festival

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli orchestra is set to become the first ensemble from the Jewish state to play a German festival associated with Richard Wagner, a composer admired by Adolf Hitler and whose music has been controversial in Israel.

The Israel Chamber Orchestra will perform in July in the northern Bavarian town of Bayreuth where Wagner lived the latter part of his life until his death in 1883. He built an opera house there, designed to host his own expansive works.

Israeli orchestras rarely play Wagner’s music, citing the feelings of survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, and state-owned media in Israel largely keeps his work off the air.

Holocaust survivors say Jews murdered at Nazi death camps were sent to the gas chambers while Wagner’s music played in the background and inmate orchestras were forced to perform his music.

Although Wagner, who penned anti-Semitic texts, died half a century before Hitler came to power, the Nazi dictator was a fervent admirer.

Attempts by some musicians in Israel to perform Wagner’s music have caused audience members to walk out in protest and have triggered public debate.

The annual Bayreuth Festival which centers around Wagner’s monumental operas is one of the biggest musical events on the calendar and organizers say tickets are sold out years ahead.

Meirav Magen-Leilie, the Israel Chamber Orchestra spokeswoman, said the orchestra would not rehearse Wagner’s music while in Israel and any member who wished to be excused from playing his works would be accommodated.

She said Wagner’s great-granddaughter, Katharina, will visit Israel next week. “Katharina Wagner is determined to visit and deliver the invitation in person, she understands that this is not simply another concert. She takes this matter very seriously.”

She said Katharina was committed to opening her great-grandfather’s archives for scrutiny to understand his work and its relation to the Nazis.

Leilie said the orchestra’s program had not yet been determined but that as well as Wagner’s music it would also include an Israeli composition.

Editing by Erika Solomon

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