Wagner in Jerusalem: all talk and not one note of music

Wagner in Jerusalem: all talk and not one note of music


norman lebrecht

December 02, 2013

The conductor Frédéric Chaslin has put together a pre-concert symposium with the Jerusalem Symphony on issues affecting Wagner and the Jews. From the lineup of eminent speakers, it promises to be a fest of free speech.

But in the concert that follows, not a note of Wagner will be played. The unofficial ban prevails.

wagner women


  • If Leon Botstein could have his way, Wagner would be played. But he propably doesn’t want to be harassed.

    The key question in the discussion is “What exactly was Wagner’s stance towards the Jews?” and then, providing it is answered honestly, how this stance relates to nazi ideology. People would be surprised…In fact, this is the way to open the door for Wagner in Israel: to show that he is not what they cracked him up to be.

  • Holly C says:

    I wrote my dissertation on “The perception and reception of Richard Wagner in Israel” in 2002. The general feeling amongst those that completed my research questions was that they felt that Wagner’s music should be performed, but perhaps not in major concert venues. I shall continue to watch with interest…

  • Reconstructed Modernist says:

    I’m by no means the first person to mention it, but every time you listen to Mahler or Schoenberg (especially early Schoenberg), you’re hearing Wagner. I was reminded of this recently when i revisited Schoenberg’s song Op. 1, No. 2, where the musical allusions to Parsifal are impossible to miss.

    Even in Israel, any effort to engage with the music of Jewish composers from fin-de-siècle Vienna while bracketing the presence of Wagner in their works constitutes a naïve attempt to repress the very historical memories to which these compositions owe so much of their significance.

  • Michael Schaffer says:

    We have to know history, understand history, learn from history, otherwise it will repeat itself. But at some point, we also have to move on. The USSR lost 20 million people in WW2, maybe even more. But the Russians have no problem performing Wagner today. And, judging from the Wagner items in my Mravinsky and Gauk collections, they didn’t have a problem with his music soon after the war either.

    • m2n2k says:

      Yes, you are correct about USSR and Russians having no problem performing and listening to Wagner soon after the war was over. But since when are USSR and Russians a shining example that must be followed by all nations? I do not believe they are. And don’t you think that their readiness in accepting Wagner is closely connected with their admiration (sometimes thinly veiled but often openly expressed) toward many aspects of Nazism? I believe it is. For the record: I am fairly confident that eventually Wagner will be performed in Israel and I do not see anything wrong with it.

  • Smerus says:

    Preventing Wagner’s music from being performed in Israel gives Hitler a posthumous victory, by validating the Nazi propaganda drive to ‘demonstrate’ that Wagner was in some way Hitler’s ideological ancestor. Even wriggles around this (‘perhaps not in major concert venues’) are concessions to National Socalist thought.

    • This is exactly right. The right way forward is indeed to demonstrate that Wagner’s ideas, both artistic and philosophical, are by and large the opposite of nazi ideology and that even Wagner’s antisemitism could not make the nazis entirely comfortable.

      The trouble is that there is so much emotional baggage attached to the issue that anyone embarking on the enterprise is bound to be harassed, called various names and villified in general. What is even worse is that even some people who know the facts choose to stay on the course of the myth because it’s supposed to be “a symbol”. The irony of such reasoning escapes them, of course.

  • Well, I fear all this is not the fact of Leon Botstein or me. Leon, whom I like very much, was Music Director here almost 8 years. Did they play Wagner? I am in my second season and this “Wagner without Wagner” concert, which was the most I was allowed to do, was in my mind since I signed my contract.

    The problem is, as a Music Director, I am responsible of 2 things: making sure the orchestra won’t be shut down by politics who would be pressured to do so by activists. Remember the Israel Chamber Orchestra, performing in Bayreuth. It was just a miracle that the minister of finance managed to stop the decision to close the orchestra. And since then, for mysterious reasons, they struggle, their salairies are delayed for months. Do I want that for my orchestra? Does any of the “brave” people who are writting the comments I read here, ready to sign the unemployement decret of 90 musicians? It is easy to write a “brave” comment in a blog. More difficult to be at the task…

    Second, I have to make sure that the survivors of the Shoa are not offended. It is a moral issue that people with a little bit of a soul have understood before me. As for Wagner’s “guilt”, almost everybody who talks about Wagner never wrote his most “important” essay on the subject. So, again, I see many people sitting in their sofa in front of their computers, throwing quick-made-judgement, before they “zap” to an other matter. Here, I have been thinking of that problem since 20 years.

    It is difficult, YES, to support a composer who said “as for you (the Jews…) there is only one way:… to GO DOWN!” (the last sentence of the essay) So, who wants to be the next to try to promote Wagner here? I did the most I could: to raise a debate, to put the problem on the table. I didn’t HAVE to do it…. Actually, I have been the only one in Israel to remind that it was 200 years since Wagner was born.

    At least my concept was trying to turn around the boiling pot. It was one step above doing nothing, since nothing is what has been achieved here this far… (I don’t speak about an “encore” quickly performed at the end of a concert, I speak about an entire evening…)

    Wagner’s text can be found here, it’s not long, it says it all:


    Time will play its role, like everywhere else. But lets not cry on Wagner… I alone have conducted more than 200 evenings of his operas, he’s not in such a bad shape…

    Frederic Chaslin