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Despite ban, Israeli orchestra plays Wagner

Last Updated 11:38 a.m. ET

BERLIN - An Israeli orchestra is performing the music of Richard Wagner at the annual Bayreuth opera festival, breaking the unofficial rule against playing the music of Adolf Hitler's favorite composer.

Organizers say the concert Tuesday by the Israel Chamber Orchestra is the first time an Israeli orchestra has played Wagner in Germany.

In 1938 the Palestine Philharmonic imposed a ban on the notoriously anti-Semitic composer's music, after the rise of Hitler and the Nazis' attacks on Jews in Germany. The informal ban has continued in Israel since the country was formed in 1948.

The American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants is criticizing the concert as a "disgraceful abandonment of solidarity with those who suffered unspeakable horrors by the purveyors of Wagner's banner."

Wagner's music was played in the Nazi death camps.

But Orchestra Chief Executive Eran Hershkovitz said the performance shows the world the Nazis failed in their attempt to exterminate the Jews.

He says: "It is a once-in a lifetime concert, a victory concert."

Israeli clarinetist Dan Erdman told CBS Radio correspondent Robert Berger, "You know many people in Israel are against it, but all of the people who are here are supportive of it."

Zubin Mehta once attempted to break the ban when, as a conductor of the Israeli Philharmonic, he announced at a 1981 performance that the encore would be Wagner's "Prelude to Tristan and Isolde." Pandemonium broke out in the audience.

At 2001's Israel Festival, Daniel Barenboim led the Berlin Statskapelle in an encore of "Prelude to Tristan," with only a few walkouts.

"Music is not anti-Semitic; music is music," Barenboim reasoned.