Israeli orchestra angers Holocaust group by playing Wagner in Germany

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The Independent Culture

An Israeli orchestra is set to perform a work by Adolf Hitler's favourite 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. The orchestra started rehearsing the Wagner piece, the Siegfried Idyll, only upon their arrival in Germany on Sunday due to sensitivities in Israel.

"They didn't rehearse it at home in order not to create any resistance," said Nicolaus Richter, the head of Bayreuth city's cultural affairs department.

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 Holocaust. 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," Mr Richter said. "[Ms] Wagner thought it was a great idea, and it also is a sign of coming to terms with the past," he added.

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 the Second World War. 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 for the country's 220,000 Holocaust survivors.

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. AP