An annual month-long German celebration of composer Richard Wagner took a surprising turn this year by welcoming an Israeli ensemble for the first time in history.
On Tuesday, the Israel Chamber Orchestra played Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll," alongside the Jewish national anthem Hatikva and work by Mahler and Mendelssohn at a festival in Bayreuth, Germany -- thereby challenging a five decade-old Israeli taboo on performing music by the German-born composer.
Wagner was known as a fierce anti-Semite, and both his music and thoughts were widely admired in Nazi circles. Wagner also has the dubious distinction of being Adolf Hitler's favorite composer. In 1938 the Israel Philharmonic -- then called the Palestine Philharmonic -- imposed an unofficial ban on performing music by the composer.
Roberto Paternostro, the chamber orchestra's conductor, told Reuters that he realized that for many in Israel, playing Wagner is still unacceptable. "But many people have told me, 'It's time we confront Wagner,' especially those in the younger generation," he said.
On the other hand, Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants deplored the orchestra's performance, telling AFP that "the decision of the Israel Chamber Orchestra sadly represents an act of moral failure and a disgraceful abandonment of solidarity with those who suffered unspeakable horrors by the purveyors of Wagner's banner."
AFP reported that the Bayreuth festival, which is organized by the Wagner family, previously announced plans to open a Jewish cultural center and will open the family archives so historians can research the family's ties to the Nazi regime.
Though the Bayreuth performance marked the first of its kind in Germany, famed conductor Daniel Barenboim had previously lead a concert featuring Wagner in Israel.