SIEGEL: This is the "Siegfried Idyll" by Richard Wagner, played by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.


SIEGEL: Like all of Wagner's music, performance of it is unofficially but effectively banned in Israel. It's not just that Wagner was an anti-Semite. He wrote a notorious essay called "Jewishness in Music." Or that after his death, his family was close to Adolph Hitler, who often attended the annual Bayreuth Festival, which is devoted to Wagner's music. Beyond all that, Wagner's music was the soundtrack to the Holocaust; it was played at Nazi death camps. Advocates of the Israeli ban say it should last until there are no more Holocaust survivors alive who might hear it.

So what happened last night in Bayreuth, Germany, was noteworthy. The Israel Chamber Orchestra played the "Siegfried Idyll" with two of the composer's great-granddaughters sitting in the front row. Roberto Paternostro is the conductor of the Israel Chamber Orchestra, and he joins us now from Bayreuth. And tell me first, Maestro Paternostro, why did you decide to perform a Wagner piece by the Israel Chamber Orchestra?

ROBERTO PATERNOSTRO: I've always loved the music of Richard Wagner when I was a student in Vienna at the Vienna music school and later when I conducted a lot. When I became music director of the Israel Chamber Orchestra in Tel Aviv, my idea was to connect those of my ideas to be in Israel. I had a lot of family in Israel. And I decide to perform Wagner's music. So my idea was to ask a friend of mine, Katharina Wagner - she's in charge now of the Bayreuth Festival - if she's interested to have a concert with us, and this morning, we did it.

SIEGEL: I've read a description of you, personally, as - and I'm quoting - "a Jew from a family of Holocaust survivors whose grandparents were dispatched to Auschwitz, and 80 percent of his family killed." What do you say to other Holocaust survivors who feel that performing this music either in Israel or in this case an Israeli orchestra outside Israel is a kind of sacrilege?

PATERNOSTRO: I'm absolutely aware of what I'm doing, and I have my greatest respect, and I will shut my mouth if someone of the survivors with a number on his hand of Auschwitz, I cannot tell him just forget Wagner's terrible words against Jews. I cannot. I can just say we're a new generation of Israel. My orchestra - there was a big discussion with my orchestra, and we invited also people to speak about the history of Richard Wagner, to explain to the orchestra. And the orchestra was really, really, really excited and curious to play his music for the first time.

SIEGEL: How would you describe the response to the performance last night?

PATERNOSTRO: I've never seen it before. I mean, I'm now in the - I'm now conducting more than 20, 25 years, but I've never seen this before in my life, that everybody was so emotional. My orchestra, all the people - many people came from Israel. After the concert, we finished with the Wagner piece. It was really a great, great moment of silence. And the whole audience - it was a standing ovation. After one minute, absolutely silence when we finished the piece, and then the whole audience was really - they were a really great audience, really great audience. It was a very emotional concert for all of us.

SIEGEL: Roberto Paternostro, thank you very much for talking with us today.

PATERNOSTRO: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Roberto Paternostro is the conductor of the Israel Chamber Orchestra, which last night in a precedent shattering performance performed "Siegfried Idyll" by Wagner in Bayreuth, Germany.


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