Israeli university cancels planned Wagner concert

JERUSALEM Wed Jun 6, 2012 10:15am EDT

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli university has cancelled plans to hold a concert featuring Richard Wagner's music after Holocaust survivors complained the performance would cause them "emotional torture".

Israeli ensembles rarely play Wagner, citing the 19th century German composer's anti-Semitism and Hitler's affinity for his work. Sporadic performances of his works in the Jewish state in the past have drawn controversy and condemnation.

Tel Aviv University said on Wednesday it had decided to cancel plans by a private group of Wagner aficionados to rent out an auditorium on campus this month after fielding "angry and difficult" complaints from Holocaust survivors.

Uri Chanoch, deputy head of a survivors' group, had protested against plans to hold the concert in a letter to the university's president with a copy to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"This is emotional torture for Holocaust survivors and the wider public in the State of Israel," said the letter, which appeared in the Israeli media.

Yonathan Livni, founder of the Israel Wagner Society, had hired 100 musicians to circumvent what he saw as a policy of Israel's state-subsidised orchestras to shun Wagner's work.

An unofficial ban on Wagner, including a taboo in airing his music on state-owned media, predates Israel's creation in 1948. The Israel Philharmonic under its former name, the Palestine Orchestra, imposed it in 1938 after Nazi attacks on Jews in Germany.

Attempts over the years by some musicians in Israel to perform Wagner's music have caused audience members to walk out in protest and have triggered heated public debate.

The distaste for Wagner stems from Hitler having been a great admirer of his work, though the composer died half a century before the dictator's rise to power.

Hitler was also believed to have drawn on Wagner's writings in his own theories on Germanic racial purity, an ideology which stood behind the Nazis' genocidal slayings in World War Two when they killed six million Jews across Europe.

Aside from anti-Semitic overtones in some of his operas, Wagner also penned a number of polemics raging against the corruption of music and the "German spirit" by Jews.

Despite Israel's shunning of Wagner's music, some of his works have been performed through the years in the Jewish state, often drawing controversy.

In 2001, Zubin Mehta, conductor of the Israel Philharmonic, condemned a call by Israeli lawmakers to ban performances by maestro Daniel Barenboim over a performance of a work by Richard Wagner.

Barenboim, an Argentinean-born Israeli, told his audience at the July 2001 concert he would play a piece from Wagner's opera "Tristan and Isolde" and said those who objected should leave. Several dozen, some shouting "Fascist" and "Go home," slammed doors as they walked out of the concert by the visiting Berlin Staatskapelle in Jerusalem.

In 2000, Israel's Rishon Lezion orchestra broke the taboo against Wagner. The orchestra, conducted by Holocaust survivor Mendi Rodan, played Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll."

(Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

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