Last updated: 25 July, 2011

Israeli Wagner fan welcomes Bayreuth concert

The president of Israel’s fledgling Wagner society told AFP on Monday he was delighted that an Israeli orchestra will be performing music by the controversial composer in Germany this week.

The Israel Chamber Orchestra is scheduled to perform Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll” during a concert in the Bavarian city of Bayreuth on Tuesday, as the city hosts its annual festival celebrating Wagner’s music.

Jonathan Livni, who last year set up Israel’s first Wagner appreciation society despite an unofficial state ban on the performance of the composer’s work, told AFP he was excited about the performance in Bayreuth.

“I am happy that an orchestra of Jewish musicians led by a Jewish conductor will play a Wagner work in Bayreuth for the first time. It’s a very important sign, because it is a bastion of Wagnerism,” Livni told AFP.

Tuesday’s concert, which will mostly feature the work of Jewish composers, is not part of the official Bayreuth Festival programme, but it has nonetheless raised eyebrows in Israel.

Revered by the Nazis and infamous for his virulent anti-Semitism, Wagner remains a highly controversial figure in the Jewish state.

The Bayreuth Festival had initially invited the Israeli chamber orchestra to take part in the celebration, but reportedly withdrew the invite after a backlash inside Israel, including from Holocaust survivors.

Performances of Wagner’s work are almost unheard of in Israel.

When Israeli-Argentinian conductor Daniel Barenboim led the Berlin State Opera in a performance of an excerpt from “Tristan und Isolde” in Tel Aviv in 1991, several audience members walked out.

But Livni, whose parents were sent to concentration camps during the Holocaust, argues that no similar taboo exists against the work of other anti-Semitic composers and that music fans should be able to enjoy Wagner’s work.

“To mark this highly symbolic event, I will be present at the concert,” he told AFP.

“I hope that the concert will mark a new step towards the lifting of the taboo in Israel against Wagner, one of the principal composers of the 19th century, and that he will soon by performed freely in our country,” he said.