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In Germany, Israeli Orchestra Pays Homage To Wagner, Hitler's Musical Hero

Israelis have traditionally considered Richard Wagner the "composer of the Holocaust soundtrack." This week, the Jewish state’s top Chamber Orchestra faced the taboo head on, performing a Wagner piece for the first time in his native Ger

Composer Richard Wagner remains a persona non grata in Israel
Composer Richard Wagner remains a persona non grata in Israel
Olaf Przybilla

BAYREUTH -- Dan Erdmann was in the audience during a guest appearance in Israel by the Berlin State Choir. As the concert ended, conductor Daniel Barenboim announced that he wanted to do an encore. He wanted to play some music by Richard Wagner.

Wagner in Israel.

There are photographs of the moment: Barenboim is turned towards the audience, addressing its protests. Barenboim tried to explain that people were free to leave the concert hall if they could not find it within themselves to accept this encore. Dan Erdmann was 17 years old at the time. He stayed. Hearing Wagner music played in concert was something he'd never been able to do before. "It was a wonderful experience," he says.

That was July 2001. Practically to the day, 10 years later, Erdmann is in Bayreuth. The members of the Israel Chamber Orchestra are rehearsing a piece of music they never practiced in Israel out of respect for those who consider it scandalous to play Wagner's music in the Jewish state.

Dan Erdmann is the orchestra's solo clarinetist. A year ago, Roberto Paternostro sounded him out about going to Bayreuth to play Wagner. Paternostro, an Austrian of Jewish heritage, is the conductor of the Tel Aviv-based orchestra. His proposal was something of a dare, although he says he never imagined it would cause such an uproar. One member of the Israeli parliament even wanted to go so far as to review whether the orchestra should continue to receive state subsidies if it went to Germany – and not just Germany, but Bayreuth – and played music by Wagner. The orchestra was breaking two taboos in a single concert.

In Israel, Richard Wagner has traditionally been considered the man who composed the soundtrack for the Holocaust. His music is sometimes played on the radio, but there have only been a few attempts to include it on concert hall programs. One conductor who tried it was Zubin Mehta. He was fiercely criticized. Twenty years later, in 2001 when Barenboim tried it, he was accused of "cultural rape."

Did Paternostro ever consider cancelling the Bayreuth appearance? The Israeli conductor gives the question a moment's thought and then replies: "Never." He goes on to say that he respects criticism and can understand that people "who still have a concentration camp tattoo don't want to have anything to do with an anti-Semite like Wagner." However, he grew up with Wagner's music; at the age of 10 he heard the Götterdämmerung for the first time in Vienna and was "bitten by the bug."

Paternostro asked all orchestra members if they wanted to go; only one stayed home. On Tuesday, July 26, at the concert at Bayreuth City Hall, Erdmann sat there taking it all in as if he couldn't quite believe it. The concert did not take place within the actual Festspiele program – a Wagner opera program, with performances between July 25 and Aug. 28 -- but within the framework of the annual festival that takes place for the 100th time this year.

Katharina Wagner, the composer's great-grand-daughter and a director of the festival, was sitting in the first row at the concert. She played an on-again, off-again role in the lead-up to it: when Paternostro approached her with the idea she seemed to embrace it, but then did not attend the press conference Bayreuth's mayor held for the orchestra's arrival on Sunday. At the concert, she appeared stirred by the music, but did not join the orchestra up on stage at the end of the show.

The chamber orchestra played music by Israeli composer Tzvi Avni, Mahler, Mendelssohn and Liszt. The last piece on the program was the Siegfried Idyll by Richard Wagner, a very tender, private composition. The piece could have been played with more precision. But as already mentioned, the orchestra hadvery little time to practice it. Still, it would have been hard to find a more moving Idyll. When the orchestra stopped playing, the audience rose from their seats and the applause only began to ebb when the first violinist gave orchestra members the sign that they could start leaving the stage.

When Hitler was in power, the town of Bayreuth was celebrated as a power center of National Socialism. The Festspiele played out almost like some kind of ersatz religious ceremony, and the Wagner clan was all too glad to go along with the madness. Dan Erdmann, the young clarinetist, knows all about the background history. "But our generation has to build bridges," he says.

Read the original article in German

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Not Your Grandma's Nonna: How Older Women In Italy Are Reclaiming Their Age

Women in Italy are living longer than ever. But severe economic and social inequality and loneliness mean that they urgently need a new model for community living – one that replaces the "one person, one house, one caregiver" narrative we have grown accustomed to.

Not Your Grandma's Nonna: How Older Women In Italy Are Reclaiming Their Age

Italy is home to many elderly people and few young ones.

Barbara Leda Kenny

ROMENina Ercolani is the oldest person in Italy. She is 112 years old. According to newspaper interviews, she enjoys eating sweets and yogurt. Mrs. Nina is not alone: over the past three years, there has been an exponential growth in the number of centenarians in Italy. With over 20,000 people who've surpassed the age of 100, Italy is in fact the country with the highest number of centenarians in Europe.

Life expectancy at the national level is already high. Experts say it can be even higher for those who cultivate their own gardens, live away from major sources of pollution, and preferably in small towns near the sea. Years of sunsets and tomatoes with a view of the sea – it used to be a romantic fantasy but is now becoming increasingly plausible.

Centenarians occupy the forefront of a transformation taking place in a country where living a long life means being among the oldest of the old. Italy is the second oldest country in the world, and it ranks first in the number of people over eighty. In simple terms, this means that Italy is home to many elderly people and few young ones: those over 65 make up almost one in four, while children (under 14) account for just over one in 10. The elderly population will continue to grow in the coming years, as the baby boomer generation, born between 1961 and 1976, is the country's largest age group.

But there is one important data set to consider when discussing our demographics: in general, women make up a slight majority of the population, but from the age of sixty onwards, the gap progressively widens. Every single Italian over 110 years old is a woman.

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