- By Robert ZeligerRobert Zeliger is News Editor of Foreign Policy.
The annual Bayreuth music festival in Germany — which celebrates the works of German composer Richard Wagner — kicked off today and for the first time will feature a group of musicians from Israel. Wagner, an avowed anti-Semite and an inspiration for Adolph Hitler, is rarely heard in Israel, where there is an unwritten ban on performing his music. Tomorrow, the Israel Chamber Orchestra will perform Wagner’s "Siegfried Idyll" for an audience at the festival. The group rehearsed for the first time yesterday after landing in Germany (they said they declined to practice the piece while in Israel).
The Wagner family has run the festival for the past 100 years — including during the Nazi era. But the current co-director of the festival, Katharina Wagner, the 32-year-old great-granddaughter of the composer, said she has been trying to reach out to Jewish groups. The festival plans to introduce a Jewish cultural center and Wagner has said she would open the family archives, allowing historians to see the extent of her family’s relationship with the Nazis.
The Israeli group’s conductor, Roberto Paternostro, explained the decision to play the music. "Wagner’s ideology and anti-Semitism was terrible, but he was a great composer," he told Reuters. "The aim in 2011 is to distinguish between the man and his art."