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National Orchestra Rehearses Wagner in Front of Audience

December 27, 1991

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra rehearsed works by the German composer Richard Wagner in front of an invited audience today, provoking new protests from survivors of the Nazi Holocaust.

″Why, in God’s name, why?″ Dov Shilansky, speaker of Parliament and a Holocaust survivor, asked on Israel radio.

Wagner, who died in 1883, was a notorious anti-Semite, and his works were much loved by Hitler. The Philharmonic, Israel’s premier orchestra, has not performed Wagner since 1938; the orchestra was founded before the Jewish state.

Two weeks ago, Daniel Barenboim, the Israeli maestro who is now music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, announced he would lead the Philharmonic in a concert of Wagner works on Dec. 27.

But protests led the orchestra to postpone the event while polling the opinions of its 30,000 subscribers.

The rehearsal was held on the day the actual concert was to have taken place. It was not advertised, and the audience consisted of people invited by Philharmonic musicians and officials, concertmaster Lazar Shuster told The Associated Press. He said this was common practice.

Israel radio said 10 of the 100 musicians refused on moral grounds to participate. Shuster confirmed some musicians stayed away.

Inside the Mann Auditorium, the Philharmonic’s Tel Aviv home, Barenboim and the musicians took the stage in casual dress. The conductor asked the audience to behave as it would at any rehearsal and give him ″the quiet we need to do our work.″

″If we play it all through in one go, I hope you will enjoy it,″ he said.

No demonstrators were inside the hall, and the performance of excerpts from The Flying Dutchman, Lohengrin, and Tristan and Isolde went off uninterrupted.

Nathan Dunevitz, a music expert, said the orchestra was in a tense mood as it began, ″but afterward, when it saw that everything was going peacefully, it became more relaxed and confident.″

He said the audience applauded each piece, but there were no encores and the orchestra did not take a bow at the end of the performance.

Dunevitz said he believed the trappings of a rehearsal were simply a disguise for what was a real concert. Dunevitz, who supports the orchestra playing Wagner, also said he believed today’s event would help break the taboo of a full-scale performance.

Outside the concert hall, a lone demonstrator, Michael Gilead, held up a placard saying ″Don’t cheer Wagner and Barenboim,″ and ″161135″ - the number that was tattooed on his arm when he was in a Nazi concentration camp.

″I wanted to express a strong protest that they are playing Richard Wagner today,″ he said. ″Wagner was a symbol of Nazism.″

Gesturing to the audience filing into the hall through a side entrance, he accused the Philharmonic of behaving ″like thieves in the night.″

Shilansky, the Parliament speaker, said he could not understand the orchestra’s ″fanatical″ insistence on playing Wagner.

″What can I say to them? Their hearts are impervious to all the pleas of ordinary Jews who are being put through the horrors again″ by Wagner’s music.

He said those in favor of the concert ″portray themselves as people of culture, art, beauty, spirit. They should also listen to those ordinary Jews who don’t bear all those titles.″

The daily Yedioth Ahronoth published a Dahaf agency poll today showing that out of 503 Israelis, 50 percent opposed a Wagner concert, 25 percent supported it and 25 percent said they had no opinion. The telephone poll, conducted Tuesday and Wednesday, had a margin of error of 3 percent.

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