Wagner's great-granddaughter retracts invite to Israeli orchestra

Holocaust survivors outraged at plan for Israeli orchestra to open German festival celebrating Hitler's favourite composer

Outrage in Israel over leaked reports that one of the country's leading orchestras has been invited to open next year's Wagner festival in Bayreuth, southern Germany, has prompted the composer's great-granddaughter and festival head to withdraw the invitation.

A spokesman for the Bayreuth Festival confirmed that Katharina Wagner had cancelled a trip to Israel next week during which she was scheduled to officially invite the Israel Chamber Orchestra to perform at next summer's event.

Leaked reports about the planned visit provoked outrage among Holocaust survivor groups, who said it was inexplicable that the orchestra would break a decades' old unofficial boycott to perform music by Hitler's favourite composer, who also held antisemitic views. Fears that protests would only escalate led to the invitation being withdrawn.

The orchestra will perform instead in the town of Bayreuth, in Bavaria, but not at the festival itself.

Musicians from the orchestra have been told they are not obliged to take part, and have been assured that none of the rehearsals of the one piece of Wagner music on the programme, the Siegfried Idyll, will take place on Israeli soil.

In a recent interview with the Guardian, Wagner expressed her wish to receive Israeli musicians at Bayreuth in an attempt to "heal wounds". The plan was hatched last year during a meeting between Katharina and Roberto Paternostro, the Austrian-Jewish chief conductor of the orchestra in an effort to promote reconciliation between the Wagner family and the state of Israel.

Erella Talmi, who sits on the orchestra's board of directors, told an Israeli radio station that the musicians wanted to take up the offer not because they were keen to break a taboo, but rather because they wanted to "accept an invitation that demonstrated a new openness".

Israeli historian and Holocaust survivor Noah Klieger said the boycott had existed since the anti-Jewish pogroms of 1938. He told the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle: "It's a sentimental ban. As long as some of us are still alive, people should refrain from imposing Wagner on us."

Leading conductors Daniel Barenboim and Zubin Mehta have attempted to break the Wagner taboo in Israel in recent years by playing his music at concerts. But each time this has provoked heated debate and prompted audience walkouts.


Kate Connolly in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

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