Mehta Attacked, Defended over Ipo Performance of Wagner

The bitter running controversy over the performance of the works of Richard Wagner by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra has centered on Zubin Mehta, the IPO’s conductor and musical director. Last week, Dov Shilansky, a Herut member and Deputy Minister for Special Functions attached to the Prime Minister’s Office, demanded that Mehta, who is not an Israeli, leave the country.

But Knesset Speaker Menachem Savidor, also a Likud member, came to Mehta’s defense today, noting that the internationally famous conductor is a loyal and enthusiastic friend of Israel and has raised Israel’s prestige in the international cultural community. Savidor told a group of visiting Columbia University lecturers that Mehta deserved an honored place in Israel’s cultural life and that personal attacks against him should be rebuffed.

MK Mordechai Virshubsky of the Shinui faction, said today that he has proposed to Premier Menachem Begin that Mehta be awarded the Israel Prize, the nation’s highest honor for achievement. He said he deserved it for his contributions to music in Israel and to the reputation of the IPO worldwide. Mehta is also conductor and musical director of the New York Philharmonic.

Meanwhile, the IPO management rejected Shilansky’s attack on Mehta, noting that the decision to play Wagner was made by the orchestra as an institution. The performance of Wagner as an encore piece at a concert at Tel Aviv’s Mann auditorium two weeks ago enraged many Israelis because of the composer’s anti-Semitism and the association of his music with Nazi ideology. But many other Israelis maintained that it was the music that counted, not the composer and that those who wanted to hear Wagner had a right to. Mehta upheld that position.

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