Barenboim Breaks the Wagner Taboo

Having agreed not to play music by Hitler's favorite composer at the Israel Festival, renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim did just that Saturday night, breaking a long-held taboo in Israel and receiving a standing ovation from most of the audience, but angry shouts from a vocal minority.

Having agreed not to play music by Hitler's favorite composer at the Israel Festival, renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim did just that Saturday night, breaking a long-held taboo in Israel and receiving a standing ovation from most of the audience, but angry shouts from a vocal minority.

Appearing in Jerusalem, Barenboim and the Berlin Statskapelle played music from Richard Wagner's opera "Tristan und Isolde." Music from the opera was featured in the original program, but after protests from Holocaust survivors and pressure from politicians, the management asked Barenboim to choose an alternative program.

At the end of Saturday's concert Barenboim asked the audience if they wanted him to play the Wagner piece after all. Most of them responded with loud applause, but a few angrily protested, shouting "fascist," and "go home."

Barenboim continued the dialogue with the audience, appealing to the protesters to let the majority hear what they wish. "This is my personal encore to them," he said. "You can be angry with me, but please don't be angry with the orchestra or the festival management."

After a bitter argument, in which those protesting were asked by some of the audience to leave the hall, Barenboim began conducting the piece. As the orchestra began playing, the protesters banged doors, but the interruptions ceased after a few minutes and the playing of the work was completed without further mishap. At the end of the performance, Barenboim received rousing applause.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday that although he is a music lover, he thinks it best if Wagner is not played in Israel "for one reason - there are a lot of people here for whom this is difficult, and it could be that this was too soon."

President Moshe Katsav, who had been one of the leading proponents of getting Wagner taken off the program, said that he was "sorry that the official bodies and institutes who made the decisions had been bypassed." He said that he was not interfering in artistic freedom, but rather taking into account the feelings of many Holocaust survivors.