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THE CHOICE OF THE GRANDSON WAGNER

Tonight’s Holocaust remembrance concert has an interesting guest. Gottfried Wagner, the grandson of Richard Wagner- who is known as the composer that the Nazis loved. He is going to tell us about the concentration camps and the lives lived there, that he studied his entire life. We got together with him at a meal before the concert.
Today perhaps something very new is going to happen in Turkey. Holocaust, the Jewish Genocide is going to be memorialized with a concert. Actually, this kind of concerts have been organized by the Jewish community for years. But this time, it’s going to happen in a big concert hall, open to everyone, and with a very special guest. Music historian and writer Dr. Gottfried Wagner is going to attend the event. Yes, your guess is correct; he is the grandson of the famous composer Richard Wagner.
The concert, which is going to be performed at Zorlu PSM, is organized by 500th Year Foundation, Anatolian Culture, and the Municipality of Sisli. The star of the concert is the pianist composer Renan Koen. The artist is attending to the concert as a pianist and a soprano. She is going to be accompanied by the Nazım Hikmet Academy Choir. Renan Koen is also the “founding mother” of the event. The person who arranged the concert, convinced the sponsors, found Gottfried Wagner, and chose the compositions to be performed is her.
In the event, the compositions that were written in Theresienstadt Concentration Camp will be performed. And right there, Gottfried Wagner is going to step in and tell us about the concentration camps and the lives lived there.
Wagner is an interesting personality. Last night we got together with him at a meal before the concert. He is a person that likes to explicate and when words come to the Wagner family, he never hesitates to talk about it. He received piano training, but he is not a musician; he chose to be a researcher and a writer. “As there was a pianist like Lizst and a composer like Wagner in the family, it was impossible for me to become a musician” he says jokingly. (His great grandmother is Lizst’s daughter Cosima Wagner). There is a rather meaningful reason why he chose to research the Jewish Genocide and the concentration camps, of course. As you know, Wagner’s music and some of his thoughts had been very much embraced by the Nazis. For this reason, Wagner’s compositions were never performed in Israel for decades. However, Gottfried Wagner faced this matter and even attended conferences in Israel in the 90’s, before his grandfather’s music was ever performed. (Wagner’s compositions could only be performed in Israel in 2002 along with harsh criticisms). “A person makes a choice”, he explains. His choice has been different from his sister who’s in charge of Beiruth Festival that’s left from their grandfather and also from Barenboim’s who often makes eccentric remarks: To become a Holocaust expert, that’s always in a struggle with his last name and that would only known to the people that is interested in the subject. His grandmother is someone who knew Hitler personally. Him too, was raised in Beiruth among these memories. But he chose to get to know the Holocaust and its victims. He even chose to leave Germany behind; he lives in Italy, and travels constantly.
Wagner knows the Theresienstadt camp very well. He had examined thousand of documents and met with survivors. In Istanbul, he is going to talk about this camp and the composers that were there. Yes, one characteristic of this camp that was located in Czechoslovakia is that most of the people in it were artists and composers. As we learned from what Renan Koen had told us is that those composers didn’t give up and continued to create with a broken piano that they managed to move there. Almost none of them could survive the Holocaust. Yet, their works could reach today. Renan Koen chose four composers among them. “None of them are pessimistic sorrowful compositions”, she explains. “On the contrary, they are filled with hope and energy”. Obviously, the works of Haas, Klein, Ullmann, Schull and their friends was a part of the will to survive and to leave a trace behind.
It’s not surprising that one of the endorsers of the night is the municipality of Sisli. For Sisli is probably the district that the most non-Muslims live in, and their culture had left many marks in it. The Mayor is someone who dreams of watching the Beiruth Festival some day and a person who is very much interested in music, Hayri Inonu. He doesn’t answer my question “What did you think about the idea of this concert?”. He is almost shy about it, and says, “don’t ask me a question like that; when it’s about art, concerts, and culture we must do something”.
In the end, I ask that cliche question to Wagner: “Have you ever been in Turkey before?”. “Of course”, says Gottfried Wagner, and he tells me that he had conducted Carmina Burana in Ankara in 1974. From his six-week Ankara experience he remembers talented chorists and tanks that wondered in the streets. Well, that’s not so wrong...
The concert tonight will be a step for Turkey to establish stronger bonds with history. To comprehend others’ pain, and to approach to them with compassion and empathy is something rather new to us. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been putting the Holocaust aside as a tragedy that only concerns Europe. But finally we are more courageous in dealing with the issues of the past. Who knows, maybe tonight is going to be a start. After so many feverish discussions, the music of the Jewish composers, and “Wagner’s choice” can be a guide to us. We can turn back and look into the past. Somewhere there, maybe we can see Gomidas, the Armenians, and find a way to approach to the issue with more empathy. <
Columnist / Cem Erciyes / Radikal Gazetesi / 13.04.2015 /Source
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