Ovation for Israeli orchestra in Wagner's Bayreuth

26th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

An Israeli orchestra made history Tuesday with a concert in Bayreuth, the spiritual home of Hitler's favourite composer Richard Wagner, and received a standing ovation.

"It was a joy for us to play Wagner here," Roberto Paternostro, conductor of the Israel Chamber Orchestra, said after the first-ever performance by an ensemble from the Jewish state in the German town.

The concert was not on the official programme the 100th Bayreuth Festival dedicated to Wagner's works that opened with great pomp Monday in the concert hall built by the composer in the 1870s on the famed Green Hill.

However the taboo-breaking concert of around two hours, dominated by music by Jewish composers like Gustav Mahler and Felix Mendelssohn but finishing with Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll", has been a major talking point.

Wagner died in 1883 and Hitler was greatly impressed by his music with its use of epic Germanic and Norse mythology, becoming a frequent guest of the family and the festival.

As a child Wolfgang Wagner, the composer's grandson who died in March 2010 after running the Bayreuth festival for 57 years, used to call the visiting Nazi dictator "Uncle Wolf".

Wagner's work has been off-limits in Israel as a result and his music is subject to an unwritten ban.

When Israeli-Argentine conductor Daniel Barenboim led the Berlin Staatskapelle in a performance of an excerpt from Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" in Jerusalem in 2001, dozens of audience members stormed out.

Wagner's great-granddaughter Katharina Wagner, who since 2009 has run the festival with her half-sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier, sat in the front row for Tuesday's concert.

Paternostro said that he had given the bouquet that he received after the concert to her.

The concert has still set some tempers flaring, however.

The American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants called it "an act of moral failure and a disgraceful abandonment of solidarity with those who suffered unspeakable horrors by the purveyors of Wagner's banner."

Wolfgang Wagner worked during his almost six decades in charge to exorcise the festival's Nazi ghosts, turning it into a major event on the cultural calendar and attracting some of world's best singers and conductors.

Katharina Wagner has vowed to take this process further, promising to open up the family archives to historians. The town has plans to start a Jewish cultural centre.

But Felix Gothart, a leader of the Bayreuth Jewish community, which now has about 500 members, twice the number when Hitler came to power, was also critical of the decision to invite the Israeli musicians.

"As soon as a single person was offended by the fact that Wagner is being played by Jews in Germany it would have been better to keep a lower profile," he told AFP.

However the president of Israel's fledgling Wagner society, Jonathan Livni, said he was delighted, saying it could represent a new beginning.

"I hope that the concert will mark a new step towards the lifting of the taboo in Israel against Wagner, one of the principal composers of the 19th century, and that he will soon by performed freely in our country," Livni said.

The Bayreuth Festival runs to August 28.

© 2011 AFP

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