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Chorus of Protest Erupts in Israel over Ipo Decision to Perform Wagner

December 16, 1991
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A public furor has arisen over the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s announcement that it will perform two works by Richard Wagner in a special concert later this month.

The state-sponsored orchestra in fact voted 39-12, with nine abstentions, to lift its ban on the works of the 19th-century German composer, an avowed anti-Semite whose music was idolized by Adolf Hitler.

They decided to include the overtures to the operas “The Flying Dutchman” and “Tristan and Isolde” in the program of the concert, to be conducted by Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim.

The IPO management agreed to excuse any member of the orchestra who does not want to take part.

But Knesset Speaker Dov Shilansky, a Holocaust survivor, begged the orchestra to reverse itself in the name of “countless other Jews affected by the Holocaust” who would be insulted if Israel’s national orchestra played Wagner.

Heated public arguments have broken out since the announcement, some of them aired by Israel Radio, which will not broadcast Wagner’s music.

The battle is not a new one in Israel. Many music lovers argue that great music should not be banned because the composer was a vile person. Others insist that anything redolent of Nazism has no place in the Jewish state.

The IPO predates the state, founded in 1936 by Bronislaw Huberman as the Palestine Philharmonic. Wagner was on the program of a concert it gave in Tel Aviv in 1938 under the baton of the anti-fascist Italian, Arturo Toscanini.

The orchestra played Wagner on a concert tour of Egypt during World War II.

The years ago, the IPO’s Indian-born musical director, Zubin Mehta, attempted to include Wagner as an encore piece at a public concert. Much of the audience walked out.

Wagner raised another storm when it was played again at a special Friday afternoon concert several years ago.

Mehta and Barenboim say any orchestra which does not have Wagner in its repertoire is not an orchestra in the full musical sense of the word. They pointed out that the upcoming concert is not part of the subscription series, so no one will fell Wagner is being forced on them.

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