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Israeli Philharmonic Rehearses Two Pieces of Richard Wagner

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Should an artist’s works be judged by his ideology?

That vexing question was addressed this week by Daniel Barenboim, the internationally famous Israeli-born concert pianist and conductor, after he took the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra on a musical “read through” of pieces by Richard Wagner during a rehearsal.

Wagner is rarely performed before audiences in Israel, by the IPO or any other group, because of his anti-Semitism and his music’s influence on Nazi ideology.

But Barenboim, a foremost expert on the German composer, thinks the Israeli public and musicians alike are missing out.

Wagner’s works were of extreme importance to the development of modern music, and any respectable orchestra needs to know something of their history, Barenboim told a news conference here.

“Wagner died in 1883, long before the Nazis, who only 50 years later misused his ideas and his music for their own nationalistic purposes,” said Barenboim, who presently is conductor and musical director of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra.

“It’s true, he was an anti-Semite. But so were Mussorgsky, Chopin and many others,” Barenboim observed.

He agreed, however, that Wagner should not be “forced down the throats” of Israelis who do not wish his music included in regular subscription concerts.

When Zubin Mehta, the Indian-born conductor of the IPO, first performed Wagner at a subscription concert here in 1981, fistfights broke out in the audience.

The experiment had not been repeated since then, but Barenboim suggested some Wagner could be included in special concerts.

He thus had the IPO “rehearse” two Wagnerian works, solely for the pleasure and experience.

A few score auditors were in the hall when it performed the Funeral March from “Gotterdammerung” and the overture to “Tristan and Isolde.”

Before he raised his baton, Barenboim offered to excuse anyone who might be offended.

Only one member of the orchestra, veteran violinist Avraham Melamed, left the hall. He had been in a concentration camp as a boy.

The IPO first played Wagner more than 50 years ago, when shortly after its founding, it performed under the guest baton of Arturo Toscanini, an ardent anti-fascist.

But that was in 1938, before the Holocaust.

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