The Israel Chamber Orchestra is to be the first ensemble from the Jewish state to play at Bayreuth. The orchestra, booked to play in July 2011, will perform music by Richard Wagner, who built a theatre at Bayreuth for the specific purpose of staging his own works.
Meirav Magen-Leilie, the orchestra’s spokesperson, said that the orchestra wouldn’t be rehearsing their music in Israel and that anyone who objected to playing Wagner’s music would be allowed to opt out. Meanwhile, Katharina Wagner, the composer’s great-granddaughter, will visit Israel next week to ‘deliver the invitation in person’, recognising that ‘this is not simply another concert.’
And indeed it won’t be. The move by the Israel Chamber Orchestra will be seen in many quarters as controversial due to the wide-ranging view that Wagner himself was an anti-Semite. His 1850 essay Das Judenthum in der Musik is seen as an attack on Jews in culture, and his music was admired by Adolf Hitler who sent millions of Jews to their deaths during the Third Reich.
Wagner’s music has been the subject of an informal ban in Israel since the formation of the state more than 60 years ago. Daniel Barenboim’s attempts to perform the German composer’s music as a concert encore in Jerusalem back in 2001 was met with protestations and anger, although the performance went ahead.
‘First of all, there is Wagner the composer. Then there’s Wagner the writer of his own librettos – in other words, everything that is tied to the music’, commented Barenboim in a conversation with Palestinian writer Edward Said. ‘Then there is Wagner the writer on artistic matters. And then there is Wagner the political writer – in this case, primarily the anti-Semitic political writer. These are four different aspects to his work.’