Ten years ago, Rishon LeZion's symphonic orchestra decided to play one of Wagner's operas on Israeli soil for the first time, after the High Court rejected an appeal to ban the piece. A year later, conductor Daniel Barenboim chose to play a segment from Wagner's Tristan and Isolde as an encore of the orchestra of the Berlin state opera, Staatskapelle Berlin's performance at the Israel Festival. As a result, the Knesset Committee called for Barenboim to be banned.
Now, the Israel Chamber Orchestra is set to become the first Israeli orchestra to perform at the Bayreuth Festival, held every summer in southern Germany. The festival was founded by the composer himself in 1876 in order to acquaint the masses with opera. Since his death, the festival is run by his descendents.
During the Nazi reign, the festival became one of the country's main cultural events, which led to its being discontinued at the end of World War II for a period of five years, when it was renewed under the management of Wagner's grandchildren Wolfgang and Wieland. The Israeli representatives will perform at the beginning of the festival, but not in an official capacity – an honor preserved for the festival's orchestra. The orchestra will be conducted by its Austrian manager, Roberto Paternostro.
Reichard Wagner's great granddaughter, Katrina, who in recent years has been managing the festival, told Yedioth Ahronoth it was the Israeli orchestra's idea to perform at the festival.
"I did not invite the Israeli orchestra to participate in the festival. Only the fact that the proposal came from Israel made us think it was a good idea," she said.
"Because of the historic sensitivity, neither the Bayreuth municipality nor the festival's management would have considered inviting the Israeli orchestra to perform at a Wagner festival. If we had made the invitation, it may have been perceived as an insult."
Katrina added that she thought the initiative was a "brave move" towards reconciliation. "It is a strong political declaration on the part of Israel and the orchestra, and I thank them for it," she said.
But Katrina understands those who may criticize the orchestra's forthcoming attitude. "If my family had gone through the Holocaust I would not be sympathetic towards such a move," she said.
Erela Talmi, who chairs the orchestra, confirmed Katrina's statement and added that the latter promised to personally support the move.
Katrina will visit Israel ahead of the historic performance of the Israeli orchestra in Bayreuth. Two month ago, Katrina, herself an opera director, told Yedioth Ahronoth of her decision to open the family archives to a committee of historians so that they can conduct in-depth research on her family's connections to Hitler and the Nazi party.
Katrina promised that the work would be done with complete transparency, and that it would be completed quickly: the committee's conclusions are set to be published before Richard Wagner's 200-year anniversary celebrations which will be held in three years.
A source close to Katrina confirmed that during her visit she is set to hold a press conference and address her family's Nazi past.
"Katrina belongs to a different generation which has no connection to that period in history" the source said. "she deals with the future, not the past but she deals with her family's history and has taken firm steps in that direction".
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