The Israel Chamber Orchestra, set to perform in Bayreuth on Tuesday a work by Richard Wagner, the composer revered by the Nazis, are not on a “political mission,” director Roberto Paternostro said.
The ensemble will play the Bavarian town in a performance coinciding with the popular Bayreuth Festival celebrating Wagner’s music, which opens on Monday.
While the orchestra will play mostly the work of Jewish composers including Gustav Mahler, it will conclude with Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll.
Israel still has an unwritten ban against playing the anti-Semitic German composer’s music. Wagner lived between 1813 and 1883, but his music was later used as part of Nazi propaganda.
The decision to play the concert caused a storm there, forcing the culture minister to intervene to stop the orchestra’s subsidies being cut.
“We all only musicians … we are not politicians and we have no political mission,” Paternostro said during a press conference on Sunday.
“I completely understand that those who have been affected by the horrors do not want to hear talk of it (but) I have had many people come to see me, music lovers, to tell me ‘it’s time that we tackle this music’,” said Paternostro.
Katharina Wagner, great-granddaughter of the composer, agreed to sponsor the concert.
“It’s a great honour for us to welcome the Israel Chamber Orchestra … we are full of respect for the courageous decision,” they have taken, the Bayreuth Festival co-director said in a statement read out by town mayor Michael Hohl.
The annual festival opens on Monday with a new production of Tannhaeuser, a romantic opera written by Wagner in Dresden in 1845 and considered the most important work of his younger years.
Last December, the celebrated Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim said the legacy of German composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883) should be freed from the “weight” of its association with Nazism.