More curious still, perhaps, is the fact that Wagner entrusted a devoted Jewish disciple, Hermann Levi, with conducting the premiere of the composer's most heavily Christian work, "Parsifal."

There are stories of Wagner and his equally, if not more, anti-Semitic wife Cosima, urging Levi to convert. But here is Levi writing to his father (a rabbi, no less) in 1882:

"Posterity will one day realize that Wagner was a great human being as well as a great artist. Even his attacks on what he calls Judaism in music … sprang from the noblest motives. There is no petty anti-Semitism about him. That is proved by his manner toward me [and other Jewish musicians]."

Noblest motives? That seems like a very big stretch. But in the 130 years since Wagner's death, eminent Jewish musicians, far less naive than Levi must have been, embraced the music wholeheartedly. Mahler, a celebrated Wagner conductor, is just one example.

Critic and librettist Paul Griffiths neatly summed up the whole Wagner matter this way: "For some, his failings of humanity must damn him. For others, his works count as colossal acts of atonement."

BSO and Wagner

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra marks the bicentennial of Richard Wagner's birth with three programs conducted by Marin Alsop.

Act 1 of 'Die Walkure,' featuring soprano Heidi Melton, tenor Brandon Javanovich and bass-baritone Eric Owens, will be performed on a program that includes excerpts from "Tristan und Isolde" and "Die Meistersinger" at 8 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Feb. 17 at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.; and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda.

An orchestral synthesis of the Ring Cycle will be performed on a program with Christopher Rouse's Ring-inspired "Der gerettete Alberich" at 8 p.m. April 18, 3 p.m. April 21 at the Meyerhoff.

The BSO's Off the Cuff series presents "Wagner: A Composer Fit for a King," a semi-staged dramatization that includes orchestral excerpts from the Ring Cycle.

For ticket information, call 410-783-8000 or go to

  • Text NIGHTLIFE to 70701 to sign up for Baltimore Sun nightlife and music text alerts