Israeli Orchestra Plays Hitler Favorite, Angering Jewish Community

An Israeli orchestra played its way into history Tuesday night by performing a piece by Richard Wagner, Hitler's favorite composer, at the renowned Bayreuth Festival in Berlin.

The piece, the "Siegfried Idyll," is a symphonic poem lasting just 20 minutes that Wagner composed for his second wife Cosima after the birth of their son Siegfried in 1869. But the fact that it was played at all has scandalized many Jews, The (London) Times reported Wednesday.

Wagner was a hero of the Fuhrer, who admired and drew inspiration from the composer's anti-Jewish essays, which raged against the "corruption" of the "German spirit" by Jews.

Hitler became chief patron of the Bayreuth Festival, founded by Wagner in 1876, and attended every summer from 1933 to 1939. It is little wonder that Wagner's music has been, despite one controversial concert, taboo in Israel. The decision to break this at the place where Hitler worshiped his musical idol has triggered a national debate about remembrance, art and taste.

"A disgraceful abandonment of solidarity with those who suffered at the hand of the Nazis," said Elan Steinberg, deputy head of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants.

"Nobody suggests that Wagner's music not be played. But the public Jewish refusal to do so was a powerful message of indignation to the world that exposed Wagner's odious anti-Semitic ideas and those who championed them."

Roberto Paternostro, conductor of the Israel Chamber Orchestra, whose mother survived the Nazi genocide, defended the performance as some politicians in Israel asked for the ensemble's funding to be cut. "Wagner's ideology and anti-Semitism was terrible, but on the other hand he was a great composer," he said.

Despite the controversy, it was not the first Wagner performance by an Israeli orchestra. That came in 2001 when Daniel Barenboim conducted a piece from "Tristan and Isolde" in Israel, which caused a walkout by many in the audience at the Jerusalem venue.