The Israel Chamber Orchestra has become the first Israeli ensemble to play a piece by the notoriously anti-Semitic German composer (and Hitler favorite) Richard Wagner in his homeland—indeed, in his home town of Bayreuth, site of the annual, official festival for his works. At the close of a program dedicated to Jewish composers—they led off with “Hatikvah,” and also dipped into the oeuvres of Gustav Mahler and Felix Mendelssohn—the orchestra, conducted by Roberto Paternostro (who has relatives who perished in the Holocaust), offered the Siegfried Idyll.
Commentary’s Jonathan S. Tobin has an excellent post defending them. “While Wagner’s anti-Semitic screeds are today read only by scholars, his life-affirming music dramas continue to be enjoyed by audiences around the world who know little or nothing of his politics,” he argues. “Those who seek to project the composer’s racial and political opinions onto the broad canvas of his myth-based theater works are inevitably reduced to strained analogies and symbolism that never holds up to scrutiny.” Besides, if Israelis playing Wagner in Bayreuth isn’t a wonderful f-you, then what is? “Wagner and his Nazi relatives must be spinning in their graves at the mere thought of it!” Tobin remarks correctly (it sure beats just eating smoked fish). As the orchestra’s director put it, “Every one of us has some relatives who were killed in the Holocaust. But to be here in Bayreuth is a victory for us.”
As for the choice of piece? Wagner wrote the Siegfried Idyll as a birthday present for his wife. It’s really quite lovely. It’s even been featured in popular culture recently. Can I resist? Can I resist posting the following? No, I don’t think I can.
Israeli Orchestra Breaks Taboo, Performs Wagner in Germany [AP/Haaretz]
Breaking the Taboo on Wagner [Commentary]
Earlier: Our Revenge on Wagner
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.