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Culture

The Politics of Wagner

An unprecedented marathon run of the Richard Wagner's entire repertoire has got off to a good start in Berlin. But Hitler's favourite composer is still as controversial as ever for many.

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Daniel Barenboim: Wagner "cannot be held responsible for Auschwitz"

In the course of 41 hours, the Argentinian-born Israeli intends to conduct the entire repertoire of Wagner's major stage works.

It began on Monday with the Flying Dutchman and will end with Parsifal on April 6.

If he succeeds, Barenboim will go down in history as the first composer to achieve the feat.

The Wagner festival is being staged at the prestigious Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin, where Barenboim is artistic director.

Controversial composer

Wagner was Hitler's favourite composer and SS guards at Nazi concentration camps sometimes played his music as they forced Jews into the gas chambers.

But Barenboim has defended the 19th century German composer against charges of anti-Semitism, arguing that he should be rehabilitated.

Wagner "cannot be held responsible for Auschwitz", he said.

Making waves

It is not the first time the star conductor of Berlin's State Opera has made waves.

Earlier this month he was quoted as saying Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had not lived up to election promises to bring peace to Israel and should resign.

"There is no peace and the country was never as insecure as it is today. In all honesty he should say: my strategy hasn't worked. I'll take my hat and go," Barenboim told Berlin's Tageszeitung newspaper.

Concert in Ramallah

Barenboim said he planned to hold a concert in the West Bank Palestinian city of Ramallah as soon as possible, despite the Israeli army barring a scheduled performance there earlier this month, saying it could not guarantee his safety.

The concert is intended to build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians after more than 17 months of fighting.

"The Palestinians will then see that not all Israelis are soldiers and the Israelis will see that not all Palestinians are terrorists," Barenboim told Germany's N-TV television.

"There is no alternative to peace" Barenboim said.

Nazi Holocaust survivors were not convinced and responded in anger. The fact that an Israeli should want to conduct the work of Adolf Hitler's favourite composer Richard Wagner in Israel was deemed unacceptable.

Barenboim was to have performed at the Ramallah Friends' Boys School, which is next to the remains of a Palestinian police station flattened during several Israeli air strikes.

He told reporters in Jerusalem on Monday that he saw no military solution to the conflict, which has raged since the start of a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in September 2000.

"For those of us who have the possibility of opening up dialogue, I think it's our duty," he said.

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