Richard Wagner’s 200th anniversary of his birth in 1813 was celebrated, not by a concert of his works whose performance is prevented by a minority-imposed ban in this so-called “democratic” country, but by a conference entitled “Talking about Wagner”, as talking about him is not (yet) banned. The event was sponsored by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.
The conference’s advertised proceedings were preceded by a violent rowdy who mounted the stage, attempting to disturb the talks by shouting curses and insults at the audience and lecturers, and was vehemently booed until escorted out by the police. The talks were enlivened by Wagner’s contemporaries Weber and Nietzsche’s duets and songs, rescued from a canceled concert of Wagner- related works, performed by sopranos Efrat Ashkenazi and Shiri Hershkovitz.
The stage was populated by a select few of all that is good and precious in Israel society – musicians, academicians, advocates, professors and media personalities, too many to be enumerated here. Some of the common hackneyed pros and cons regarding Wagner were ruminated. Noteworthy are Menahem Tzur’s comments that, as a composer, he would not be able to function without Wagnerian musical ideas, demonstrated at the piano by examples from Wagner’s and his own works. So is Na’ama Shefi’s correct observation that the very idea of banning art works, not on account or their content or artistic qualities, but because of their creator’s personality is an original Nazi invention, still kept alive today only in Israel – a dubious honor indeed.
Composer Michael Wolpe suggested a pro-Semitiic order of priorities: performing first the neglected operas of the Jewish Meyerbeer before then spending funds on the performance of Wagner operas.
The JSO’s French conductor Frederic Chaslin surprised the Wagner-discussions by saying, “Plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose” (“The more it changes, the more it remains the same thing”).
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