Paul Heise's review of "Wagner in Israel: Between Memory and Liberalism," a talk presented by Na'ama Sheffi (Sapir College, Israel) at the Wagner Worldwide 2013 bicentennial symposium sponsored by the Univ. of South Carolina in the winter of 2013:
After Krystalnacht, Wagner was banned from Israeli concert halls. Wagner's music became a symbol of Nazism, yet was not officially banned. The ban on the composers who supported the Nazis has been lifted, yet Wagner's music is still banned. On the one hand the Knesset had requested that concert halls not present the music of those composers who had supported the Nazis, but on the other hand wanted to preserve freedom of speech and inquiry.
The Palestinian Symphony Orchestra [PH: presumably Jewish, or mostly Jewish musicians?] did initially play Wagner, but this ended after the Nazis set up their race laws.
After this there was voluntary censorship of Wagner's music. In 1952, a newspaper published a request to play music by Wagner and Richard Strauss.
Wagner was considered the founder of anti-Semitism in music and the arts. But it was widely felt that music should not be censored.
The question was asked, why, if there is a ban on performance of Wagner, volkswagons can be sold in Israel?
In 1965 Israel and Germany restored full diplomatic relations. In 1981, the Israel Philharmonic played a piece of music by Wagner, the first in 43 years, but Zubin Mehta, the conductor, was attacked.
During the 1990's there were several attempts to play Wagner in public. Daniel Barenboim, Jewish, from Argentina, had spent his youth immersed in music, yet he was tagged as an outsider by Holocaust survivors for trying to perform Wagner's music in Israel. In 2001, Barenboim conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in Wagner's Liebestod. In Israel Barenboim was called a cultural persona non grata. Survivors sought a permanent injunction in court against any performance of Wagner by the Philharmonic.
In 2011 the Israeli Chamber Orchestra performed at Bayreuth. Israeli State institutions wished to leave the Wagner question open. But opposition to Wagner became a symbol. The Government chose a non-solution as a solution.
Question: Nicholas Vazsonyi: There is a distinction between radio performance and live performance. Why were live performances the main issue? PH seems not to have recorded Sheffi's answer
Question: Anno Mungen: Are there records of what Holocaust victims have had to say about performance of Wagner's music in Israel?
Answer: They said that they heard Wagner in the concentration camps, but not in live performances. Nazi officers may have listened to Wagner on the radio. Richard Strauss cooperated with the Nazis only a short time. Strauss was not an anti-Semite.
Question: Are there any other anti-Semitic composers listed by the Knesset?
Answer: Franz Lehar, and Karl Orff.
Question: What about responses to the East-West Divan Orchestra?
Answer: It's too recent to know [?].
PH: I believe it's self-evident that over time younger Israeli audiences for Wagner will emerge, as Holocaust victims pass away. I don't believe that the victims need fear that this inevitable change will represent a loss of historical memory or represent growing insensitivity to the terrible past, and its consequent obliviousness to the dangers of genocide and other expressions of racism and bias. It will simply mean that modern audiences accept our artistic heritage for its own inherent worth and are not bound to rate art's value according to the sometimes awful or bizarre viewpoints of the artists who gave the world so much beauty. How many great artists of the past would survive this test if we could know their thoughts and impulses as well as we know Wagner's?
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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