Daniel Barenboim to Apologize, Receive Wolf Award

Conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim will receive Israel's prestigious Wolf Prize after expressing regret Tuesday for any harm caused by his performance in Israel of music by Hitler's favorite composer, Richard Wagner.

Education Minister Limor Livnat had demanded Barenboim apologize publicly for defying an unwritten ban on performaning works by Wagner in Israel.

The 19th-century German composer's music and anti-Semitic writings influenced Hitler, and Holocaust survivors still associate Wagner's compositions with the Nazis.

In an interview Tuesday with Israel Radio, Barenboim said he had no regrets about playing the work, but added: "If people were really hurt, of course I regret this, because I don't want to harm anyone."

On July 7, 2001, Barenboim led the Berlin Staatskapelle Orchestra in a performance of music from Wagner's opera "Tristan und Isolde" as an encore at the Israel Festival, the country's most prestigious arts forum.

After asking the audience if they wanted him to play it - a question that drew applause, angry shouts and a 30-minute debate - he performed the piece despite promising the festival management beforehand that he would not conduct Wagner.

Days later, the Knesset Education and Culture Committee urged the country's cultural bodies to boycott Barenboim, who is also controversial because of his criticism of the Israel's policy toward the Palestinians.

In Tuesday's interview, Barenboim denounced Livnat's demand for an apology as politically motivated.

"I think this has an element of impropriety and politicization of all kinds of things in our country that are not right," said Barenboim, who was born in Argentina and raised in Israel, but has not lived in Israel for years.

Asked whether he planned to apologize, Barenboim said, "I don't see what I need to apologize about. If I ever hurt a person privately or in public, I am sorry, because I have no intention of hurting people, but I don't think that this is one of those cases."

That was good enough for Livnat, who told Israel Radio afterward: "I'm glad he decided to apologize, and with this, the matter has been resolved." An aide to the minister said she had seen the transcript of the radio interview.

The controversy erupted after the Wolf Foundation announced Monday that Barenboim, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the State Opera House in Berlin, was to be awarded its annual a $100,000 prize.

Barenboim is to receive the prize with Soviet-born cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich.

Barenboim made two visits in recent years to a Palestinian school in the West Bank city of Ramallah to perform Beethoven and Brahms on piano - performances meant in part as a gesture of reconciliation with the Palestinians.

The three-judge Wolf Foundation panel wrote in a statement announcing the prize: "Barenboim's dedication to human rights causes and to world peace has helped to bring together individuals of all races and creeds.

"He is committed to the notion that people can more thoughtfully listen to each other through the artistry of music."

Barenboim said he would contribute the prize money to music education programs in Israel and the West Bank.