Shock: Israeli Symphony To Play Wagner

A seven-decade old cultural taboo will be broken next month when an Israeli symphony orchestra will play works by Richard Wagner inside the country for the first time since the state’s foundation in 1948. The Eretz Israel orchestra, the pre-state forerunner of the world-famous Israel Philharmonic, stopped playing the music of the German composer, who was notorious for expressing anti-Semitic views, in 1938 after the Nazis’ Kristallnacht pogrom of Jews. Attempts to include Wagner, who was also Hitler’s favourite composer, in Israeli concert repertoires since then have always been thwarted by opposition. I wonder what Leonard Bernstein, who conducted the Israel Philharmonic in Israel but never the Israel Philharmonic in Wagner in Israel, would think of this.

When the conductor Daniel Barenboim used an encore to lead the visiting Berlin Staatskapelle orchestra in playing the overture of Tristan Und Isolde at a Jerusalem concert in 2001, there were angry walkouts and he was widely denounced from the then Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, down. The concert will be part of a day of discussion and music at Tel Aviv University. It will explore the inspiration the Zionist visionary, Theodor Herzl, drew from Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser when he was writing the first draft of his seminal book The Jewish State.

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