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Ipo Goes Ahead and Plays Wagner, in Guise of a Rehearsal Concert

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After weeks of controversy aired around the world, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra went ahead Friday and played music by Richard Wagner. But the program took place in the guise of a working rehearsal, before a carefully screened audience.

The musicians were dressed informally as they took their positions onstage at the Mann Auditorium here. So was maestro Daniel Barenboim, the Israeli concert pianist and conductor who is one of the foremost exponents of Wagner’s music.

The audience of about 600 invited guests included family and friends of musicians, as well as music students from conservatories around the country. They entered the concert hall through a side door under the scrutiny of security guards.

The precautions were taken because of the fierce debate aroused when the IPO voted by a substantial majority on Dec. 15 to include works by the 19th-century German composer in a special non-subscription concert scheduled for Dec. 27.

Emotions ran high because Wagner, an anti-Semite who became a Nazi icon 50 years after his death, has been banned from the repertoire of Israel’s state orchestra.

Music lovers argue that great art cannot be ignored because the artist may have been an evil person. Nevertheless, the IPO was forced to cancel Friday’s originally scheduled public concert, pending a poll of its 36,000 season subscribers.

That left open the possibility the concert would be re-scheduled. But Barenboim, who is also director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, could not wait because of commitments abroad.

Meanwhile, he made sure the rehearsal format was observed by calling frequent breaks to instruct the orchestra on fine points of the music.

He also excused 12 musicians who felt uncomfortable playing Wagner.

The performance included extracts from the operas “The Flying Dutchman,” “Tristan and Isolde” and “Lohengrin.” There was nothing, however, from the famous “Ring” cycle, which was a favorite of the Nazis.

The front doors of the auditorium were locked and the box office was closed. Outside the concert hall, a lone protester, who gave his name as Michael Gilead, carried a banner inscribed with the numerals 116135, which he said were tattooed on his arm at Auschwitz.

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