Warren Boroson’s excellent Aug. 7 article on Richard Wagner, as well as his interview with Prof. Leon Botstein, offer important insights into Richard Wagner’s anti-Semitism and his music. But Boroson glosses over the controversy that surrounded the playing of Wagner’s music by Daniel Barenboim in 2001. Barenboim’s actions at the time were quite controversial, and completely dishonorable. Allow me to refresh your readers’ memory.
In 2001, Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Staatskapelle were invited to perform at the annual Israel Fair, one of Israel’s major arts and cultural celebrations of the year. Barenboim wanted to perform Wagner’s opera “Die WalkÃ¼re,” in keeping with his long held view that unofficial ban of Wagner’s music in Israel referred to in Boroson’s article be rescinded. Yet he agreed to refrain from doing so at the request of the Israel Fair organizers. Had he not, he and the Berlin Staatskapelle would not have been allowed to play. The merits of the ban notwithstanding, this was the agreement that Barenboim and then Israel Festival director Yossi Talgan agreed to. Yet at the end of the concert, Barenboim announced that he would play Wagner’s overture to the opera “Tristan und Isolde” as an encore, and that those who objected should leave.
As the Jerusalem Post reported at the time, then Science and Culture Minister Matan Vilna’i accused Barenboim of “pulling a fast one,” which he most certainly did. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Moshe Katsav echoed the criticism, as did many others. It caused quite an uproar at the time.
Prof. Botstein has articulated a strong yet unconvincing argument against the ban on Wagner’s music in Israel. As he is an honorable man, his views should be considered and debated. The same simply can’t be said of Daniel Barenboim, and how he went about challenging the ban.