Israeli Orchestra to Break Boycott Against Wagner's Works for First Time

Noam Ben-Zeev
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Noam Ben-Zeev

Next month, for the first time in Israel, works by Richard Wagner will be performed in concert by a full symphony orchestra, the Israel Wagner Society announced yesterday.

The event will break the boycott against Wagner's work that has prevailed since 1938, when the Eretz Yisrael Symphony Orchestra (later the Israel Philharmonic) stopped performing his music in late 1938, following the Kristallnacht pogroms.

Wagner, who espoused anti-Semitic views during his lifetime, was also Adolf Hitler's favorite composer. Attempts to perform Wagner here over the past 30 years have always generated heated controversy.

The concert will be part of a day of discussion and music entitled "An Academic Musical Encounter: Herzl-Toscanini-Wagner," which, according to the announcement, will explore "the interesting and intriguing connection between the seer of the state, the conductor Arturo Toscanini and Wagner's music."

It is scheduled to take place on June 18 at the Smolarz Auditorium of Tel Aviv University.

As part of the program, conductor Asher Fisch will discuss the influence Wagner's opera "Tannhauser" had in inspiring Herzl during his first draft of his tract "The Jewish State," and the way the anti-Fascist Toscanini used Wagner's work to give expression to his humanistic outlook.

Dr. Meir Stern and musicologist Prof. Jehoash Hirshberg will also lecture on various musical, textual and cultural aspects of Wagner's works.

But the most controversial part of the program will undoubtedly be the concert.

"A hundred musicians have been hired especially for this evening to perform - musicians who together constitute an orchestra in itself," said Jonathan Livny, the founder of the society. "Each has been engaged via a personal contract for this concert only."

He added that only private funding was used to stage the event. In this fashion, the Wagner Society is circumventing the argument that state-supported orchestras dare not try to impose Wagner's music on their subscribers and the public.

"This way there isn't anyone to struggle against: Whoever wants to buy a ticket can buy one, and whoever doesn't, won't," said Livny, who noted that several Holocaust survivors are members of the Wagner Society.

Works to be performed include selections from "Der Ring des Nibelungen," "The Valkyrie," and others.