TEL AVIV (Reuters) - An Israeli orchestra will strike an emotional chord in Germany next year when it plays a work by Richard Wagner, Hitler’s favorite composer, further challenging a long-standing taboo in Israel on his music.
Israeli ensembles hardly ever play Wagner, citing the feelings of Holocaust survivors.
But with the passage of time and the dwindling numbers of elderly survivors, vehement opposition in the Jewish state to the works of the anti-Semitic 19th-century composer is fading, Israel Chamber Orchestra (ICO) chairwoman Erela Talmi said.
“I think that the atmosphere has changed and that those people who were at the concentration camps are either weaker or no longer with us, and those who voiced their opinion are only a few and it is hard for them to (be heard now),” she said.
The ICO is to perform in July on the fringes of the annual Beyreuth festival in Germany that celebrates Wagner’s operas.
It will play Wagner’s Siegfrid Idyll, an orchestral piece, as well as a work by Israeli composer Zvi Avni and music by German-born Felix Mendelssohn and Austrian-born Gustav Mahler, two of the most prominent among Jewish-born composers.
Talmi said the orchestra’s appearance would send a poignant message: “You could not get rid of us. You could not get rid of our music.”
Attempts over the years by some musicians in Israel to perform Wagner’s music have caused audience members to walk out in protest and have triggered heated public debate.
Wagner is also taboo on state-owned media in Israel which largely keep his work off the air.
The ICO will rehearse and play Wagner’s music only while in Germany, said the orchestra’s Austrian conductor, Roberto Paternostro.
Wagner, he said, was a lingering relic of Israel’s boycott of old German symbols and although taboos on other items formerly associated with the Nazi regime had been abandoned, the composer remained banned.
“Wagner became a symbol ... there is no problem to own a Volkswagen in Israel and there is no problem to travel here on Lufthansa. Today I arrived at the concert hall in a Mercedes taxi, but Wagner became a symbol of all the terrible things that happened,” Paternostro told Reuters.
Although Wagner, who penned anti-Semitic texts, died half a century before Hitler came to power, the Nazi dictator was a fervent admirer and drew on the composer’s writings in his own theories on racial purity and exterminating the Jews.
Wagner expert Paternostro was appointed artistic director of the ICO at the start of the year and said he had raised the idea for the orchestra to play in the northern Bavarian town of Bayreuth during the time of the Wagner festival.
Paternostro, who is Jewish and whose mother and other relatives are Holocaust survivors, said he proposed the idea of the ICO’s appearance to Wagner’s great-granddaughter, Katharina Wagner, who has given her patronage to the event.
Talmi said that of the 2,000 orchestra subscribers she had heard only one said she would cancel her season-ticket, while every orchestra member was in favor of playing Wagner.
Israeli Holocaust survivors expressed varying opinions on whether the German composer’s music should be played.
“I was in Majdanek (concentration camp) and everything I went through there was bad and now when our musicians go to Germany to play Wagner, well I say No, no and once again no,” said 75-year-old Hanna Rosenbuch.
Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Paul Casciato