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Sunday, 8 July, 2001, 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK
Barenboim breaks Wagner taboo
Wagner was a known anti-Semite and Hitler favourite
The conductor Daniel Barenboim has broken a decades-old Israeli taboo by conducting a piece by Richard Wagner at the annual Israel Festival.

He tried to seduce the Israeli public. The Israel public refused, he raped us

Ephraim Zuroff
Simon Wiesenthal Centre

At the end of a concert in Jerusalem on Saturday night, Mr Barenboim told the audience that as an encore, the orchestra would play a piece from Wagner's opera "Tristan and Isolde," inviting anybody who objected to leave.

The piece received a standing ovation from most of the audience, but some angry protesters left the hall banging doors and shouting "fascist!" "Juden raus!" ("Jews out" in German) and "go home!"

Wagner was Adolf Hitler's favourite composer and inspired Nazi cultural propaganda. There has always been an unwritten ban on his music being played in Israel.

Stravinsky instead

Originally, Mr Barenboim planned to perform "Die Walkuere" at the festival, but an anti-Wagner backlash forced him to conduct compositions by Igor Stravinsky instead.

Before the surprise encore on Saturday, Mr Barenboim, who was raised in Israel, appealed to the audience in Hebrew.

"I said I had something personal and private to say to them from my heart," Barenboim said.

"I told the audience, 'I don't want to offend anyone and if there are people who don't want to listen please leave the auditorium," the 58-year-old conductor told Israel Radio.

Wagner ring-tone

He said he made his decision to lead the Berlin Staatskapelle in the performance when he heard a mobile phone ringing to the tune of a Wagner composition during a news conference he gave in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

"The telephone's ring was 'The Valkyries' of Wagner and I thought: if it can be heard on the ring of a telephone why can't it be played in a concert hall?" Barenboim said.

Daniel Barenboim
Barenboim: "If it can be heard on a phone, why not in a hall"
He told the protesters that the decision to play Wagner was his own, and asked them not to be angry with the orchestra or festival's managers.

Jerusalem's Mayor Ehud Olmert told Army Radio that Barenboim's behaviour was "brazen, arrogant, uncivilised and insensitive" and that the city would have to reconsider its future relations with the conductor.

And the Israel director of the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Centre, Ephraim Zuroff, said what Barenboim did amounted to "cultural rape".

"That's exactly what he did, he tried to seduce the Israeli public. The Israel public refused, he raped us," Zuroff was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Not first time

Mr Barenboim is not the first to break the Wagner taboo. Last year, the Israeli Rishon Letzion orchestra, conducted by Holocaust survivor Mendi Rodan, played Wagner's "Siegried Idyll".

Although that were protests at that performance, it was considered a lesser offence, since it was not part of the national annual cultural festival.

In 1981 the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra almost played a piece from "Tristan and Isolde", but conductor Zubin Mehta stopped the performance when a Holocaust survivor jumped onto the stage, opened his shirt and showed scars inflicted in a Nazi concentration camp.

The BBC's David Harrison
"The controversial conductor may now find himself unwelcome in his native country of Israel"
Ehud Olmer, Mayor of Jerusalem
"He just abused the stage"
See also:

07 Jun 98 | Middle East
Tel Aviv opera drops plans for Wagner
30 May 01 | Arts
Protests stop Wagner concert
27 Oct 00 | Middle East
Israeli orchestra breaks Wagner taboo
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