JERUSALEM – An Israeli orchestra will perform works by Adolf Hitler's favorite composer, Richard Wagner, in a taboo-breaking concert in Germany next year, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.
The Israel Chamber Orchestra will play works by Wagner at the Bayreuth festival in Germany in July, spokeswoman Meirav Magen Lelie said. It will be the first time an Israeli orchestra has played Wagner in Germany.
Since its founding in 1948, Israel has observed an informal ban on Wagner's music because of its use in Nazi propaganda before and during World War II.
Some 6 million Jews were systematically murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators in Europe during the war.
Many Israelis still refuse to buy German-made products, and performances of the 19th-century composer are kept off stages and airwaves out of respect to the country's 220,000 Holocaust survivors.
Sensitivities are so high that the orchestra won't even rehearse in Israel and will only practice in Germany a few days before the festival, Magen Lelie said, adding that the move was an effort to alter the perception of the music.
"We would love to change the way his music is conceived," Magen Lelie said, explaining that she understood the sensitivities of Holocaust survivors and others but said the music should be appreciated for what it is.
Music by composers banned by the Third Reich, including Gustav Mahler and Felix Mendelssohn, will be played there as well, she said.
Moshe Sanbar, a prominent member of Israel's main Holocaust survivor umbrella group, said it is too early for Israelis to play Wagner.
"I think it's better they don't do this because Wagner was Hitler's music," Sanbar said. "They should play it in a few years when all of us death camp and Holocaust survivors are dead. It is really bad for our health, Wagner is too much for us, the memories are still very painful."
The orchestra will be led by Roberto Paternostro, whose mother survived the Nazi genocide, and who is friends with Katharina Wagner, a great-granddaughter of Wagner and co-director of the Bayreuth festival.
Wagner said in a statement that the visit was an "outstanding contribution in the context of a growing rapprochement between our two countries."
Israel and Germany established diplomatic ties in 1965, two decades after the end of World War II. Since then, Germany has become Israel's second-largest trading partner and has paid some $40 billion in reparations to Holocaust survivors in Israel. Ties have become even closer since Angela Merkel became chancellor in 2005.
In a symbolic gesture to Israel, Germany's military chief, Volker Wieker, visited Israel's national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, on Tuesday.
The Bayreuth festival is Germany's most important festival for classical music. Merkel and many other prominent personalities regularly visit the annual event, which was founded by Wagner himself in 1872.
The Wagner family had close connections to the Nazis and their ideology, and Hitler headed the Bayreuth festival in the 1930s.
Bayreuth Mayor Michael Hohl said the Israeli orchestra's appearance would be "a really special event, because it is groundbreaking."
"The special role that Bayreuth and Wagner played in the ideology of the Nazi dictatorship is still unforgotten and cannot go unmentioned in view of such a cultural event," he added, noting that Bayreuth was happy to welcome "the people in power at that time and their inner circle as regular festival guests."
Hohl said the orchestra's visit to play Wagner was "like a late, symbolic victory of tolerance, art and culture over the barbarism of dictatorship."
The concert will not be the first Wagner performance by an Israeli orchestra. In 2001, world-renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim angered many Israelis when he played some of Wagner's music in Israel.
Associated Press writer Kirsten Grieshaber contributed to this report from Berlin.