Barenboim would play for Arafat, Assad, not Sharon

September 09, 2002


[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach six pieces concerning the Israeli-Argentinean pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim:

1. "Controversial conductor Barenboim set to play Ramallah concert" (Ha'aretz, Sept. 10, 2002).

2. "Spain honors Palestinian, Israeli with Peace Prize" (Voice of America news, Sept. 4, 2002). Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said have been awarded the Spanish-speaking world's equivalent of the Nobel Prize for their strong criticism of Israel's government.

3. "A maestro crudely off key" (By Martin Sherman, Israel Insider, Sept. 4, 2002). In an interview with the Hebrew daily Yediot Ahronot last weekend, the internationally renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim said he would not allow Ariel Sharon to attend his concerts, but that he would like to play in Damascus, where Syrian President Bashir Assad could attend. "With friends like Barenboim who needs enemies?" asks the writer.

4. "Wake up, Israel." The Guardian reprints extracts from Daniel Barenboim's new autobiography (Guardian, Sept. 6, 2002).

5. "Spain peace prize for Jewish, Palestinian artists" (Reuters, Sept. 4, 2002). The Prince of Asturias "concord" prize was awarded to Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said for their "generous and laudable work for peace and harmonious living".

6. The Guardian also ran another article by Barenboim in the same edition (Sept. 6, 2002) entitled "Those who want to leave, do so" concerning Barenboim's impromptu playing of Wagner at last year's Israel festival in Jerusalem. Barenboim suddenly played Wagner as an encore at the end of another concert even after he had promised the concert organizers and Holocaust survivors that he would not do so.



Controversial conductor Barenboim set to play Ramallah concert
September 10, 2002

Pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim announced Monday that he will conduct a special concert in Ramallah on Tuesday. This is the second time that the well-known Jewish dove has announced plans to visit Ramallah, but the first visit, planned for March, was cancelled on the advice of Israeli security forces, who said they could not guarantee Barenboim's safety. At the time, Barenboim said that although he trusted his Palestinian escorts, he would not set out for Ramallah because he knew he would be turned back at the checkpoint.

Barenboim has made several statements condemning the Israel Defense Force's operations in the West Bank in recent weeks, and some three weeks ago held a concert at Beir Zeit University, where he has close friendships with several Palestinian musicians. "It is important for Palestinians to have positive feelings about someone from the other side," said Barenboim, explaining his desire to visit the territories. "I told them that I am not a politician, that I have no solutions and that I have come solely to open hearts."

Barenboim arrived in Israel last week to participate in the Fifth International Chamber Music Festival in Jerusalem. On Sunday, Jerusalem police boosted its presence at the YMCA building in the city, after Barenboim received death threats. Sources close to the conductor reported the threats to the police, which they said came from ultra-Orthodox quarters



Spain honors Palestinian, Israeli with Peace Prize
Voice of America news
VOA Arts & Culture
September 4, 2002

Spain has awarded its highest peace prize to Israeli conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim and U.S.-based Palestinian writer Edward Said for their efforts toward peace in the Middle East.

Officials say they honored the two artists with the Prince of Asturias Concord prize for their efforts in setting up a youth orchestra for Arab and Israeli musicians as they sought to promote dialogue and an end to historical antagonism.

The Associated Press says the two men became friends in the early 1990s. They later started a summer workshop called "West Eastern Divan" that brought young musicians from Israel and Arab countries together in Germany, the United States and earlier this year in Spain.

The 59-year-old Mr. Berenboim was born in Argentina. He is a concert pianist and conductor currently heading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Berlin's Staatsoper. 67-year-old Mr. Said is a writer and essayist as well as a professor at New York's Colombia University.

The Prince of Asturias prizes are awarded annually as the Spanish-speaking world's answer to the Nobel Prize.



A maestro crudely off key
By Martin Sherman
Israel Insider
September 4, 2002

In an interview with the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot last weekend, the internationally renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim flatly rejected the possibility of inviting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, an ardent music lover, to any of his concerts during his upcoming visit to Israel.

"I have nothing to say to 'that man,' in spite of his love of music," snapped Barenboim, an allegedly loyal Israeli, about his democratically elected prime minister. "I think that 'that man' is inflicting great harm not only on the Palestinians but on the Israelis as well," he said, explaining the reasons for ostracizing Sharon, who was swept into power by an unprecedented landslide by Barenboim's fellow Israelis, apparently unendowed with the conductor's superior political acumen.

It should, of course, be noted that Barenboim's political "insight" and professed concern for Israel have led him into close collaboration with none other than Edward Said.

Said, an intellectual of Palestinian origin and of doubtful integrity, who was embarrassingly caught by the camera hurling stones at IDF soldiers on the Lebanese border after the Israeli withdrawal, has over the years made a name for himself as one of Zionism's most vitriolic critics, and a fervent advocate of the elimination of the Jewish state.

One can only surmise, therefore, that, for Sharon to redeem himself in Barenboim's eyes, he would have to revert to the failed policy of concession and withdrawal of his predecessors, whom Barenboim would not have hesitated to invite to his performances.

Never mind that these policies have wrought untold disaster on Israel; never mind that they resulted in the killing and maiming of thousands of Israelis; never mind that they were utterly rejected at the polls. What matters, apparently, is that they have the overriding merit of being approved by the fashionable, liberal Left.

Much of the remainder of the interview is a disturbing mixture of self-contradictory platitudes and blatant non-sequiturs. Thus, for example, Barenboim spoke in glowing terms of the accomplishments of a joint Israeli-Palestinian-Arab orchestra which he formed (together with Said) in order to promote dialogue between protagonists in the Middle East conflict.

So it appears that according to Barenboimian logic, dialogue with citizens of Israel's adversaries is perfectly acceptable, even desirable; but unthinkable when it comes to the Israeli prime minister with whom he refuses to converse.

Not that Barenboim has any illusions about the nature of the heads of state in Arab countries. For when asked about the possibility of his peace-promoting orchestra performing in Jerusalem, his reaction was sharp: "Are you crazy?" he retorted, "There are members in the orchestra who come from Egypt [sic], Lebanon, Jordan [sic] and even five from Syria. I cannot possibly divulge their names. If I did, they may not be allowed home. They could even find themselves in more serious danger."

Strange how complacent and uncritical Barenboim is about the behavior of the Arab regimes especially Egypt and Jordan who in spite of their signature on peace agreements with Israel, still often penalize their citizens who dare to maintain overt cultural ties with the despised "Zionist entity."

But perhaps the peak of absurdity in the interview was reached when Barenboim expressed the hope of his joint orchestra performing in the near future in Damascus. It is inconceivable that he believes he could hold such an event without inviting Syrian President Bashir Assad to attend. So one must conclude that while the Israeli premier is a persona non grata at his concerts, the president of one of the most tyrannical and non democratic states in the world is not.

Yet, in spite of his severe censure of his own country and countrymen, in spite of unquestioning acceptance of the undemocratic abuses of his country's adversaries, in spite of his liaisons with his country's fiercest critics, Barenboim still professes allegiance to Israel. "I come to this country because it is important to me," he declares. "This is who I am. This is my people."

With friends like Barenboim, one might well ponder, who needs enemies?

(The writer is a senior research fellow at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.)



Wake up, Israel
Can music stop a war? The great Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim thinks so. As his 60th birthday nears, he tells Emma Brockes why he is now directing his fierce energies at the Middle East crisis and why he thinks Sharon is a danger to his homeland. In an exclusive extract from his autobiography, he explains why he broke his country's Wagner ban
The Guardian
September 6, 2002

In the town of Pilas, near Seville in southern Spain, there is not much incentive to move. During the summer months the people of Pilas resign themselves to lassitude and so, this morning, an unusual atmosphere hangs in the air: something smacking of industry stirs, a quiver of music comes from the direction of the conference centre. It is of an intensity so alien to Pilas that even the armed guard, slouched at the gate and keeping a despondent lookout for terrorists, summons the energy to turn his head.

Pilas would not normally regard itself as a target for terrorists, but this week it is taking no chances. In the Complejo Residencial Lantana, something both energetic and politically sensitive is in session: rehearsals for the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a group of young Arab and Israeli musicians tutored for two weeks by a man once described by the former mayor of Jerusalem as "arrogant and uncivilised", as a "phenomenon" by the conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler, and as "cultish", "despotic" and most frequently "a genius" by European newspapers. At 11 years old, Daniel Barenboim performed Prokofiev's second piano sonata for Arthur Rubinstein and established himself as a prodigy. In the 48 years since, his reputation has snowballed through careers as a pianist and conductor, engagement in the Middle East debate (he was the first conductor to take Wagner to Israel) and marriage to Jacqueline du Pre. Barenboim, 59, has become a figure of Romantic depth and proportion: a man who hates mediocrity, repetition and rushing at meal times. "Arrogant?" he says, with a loaded smile. "I hope not. An artist can only be great if he is uncompromising."

Half an hour before rehearsals, the Complejo seethes with the competitive energy of a performing-arts school: three thick-necked brass players jam in the shady colonnade while girls with long hair attack their stringed instruments in the dining-room foyer. Sprinklers click and the bald sky glowers, a burnt-out blue straight from the Old Testament. "You are here to audition for the maestro?" asks the receptionist, and she pats me reassuringly on the shoulder. When Barenboim enters the auditorium he is mopping his brow, his head several journey stages in front of his body. The air is dense with concentration. "How many bars after B1 is the next allegro?" he raps (21). "Can you hear the difference between the 5th and the 7th? Listen to the strings. You can smell the difference, yes?" The musicians stare at him with huge eyes. One pimply cellist recoils after sneaking a gulp of water from his bottle. "Non!" thunders Barenboim. "There is no drinking! OK, bar 18, tutti!"

Afterwards, he enters a whitewashed room and reclines on a sofa, drinking an energy drink and talking, talking he loves to talk. Contrary to his reputation, he says, he is very lethargic, hates getting up in the morning. "You won't believe it, but I'll tell you anyway: I'm actually a very lazy person. I'm not a morning person. On days when there is a rehearsal at 10am, I get up at nine. In Berlin, unfortunately, I live too far from the opera house to have an afternoon nap."

Barenboim is in the odd position of speaking five languages, each with a slight accent. Spanish is his first language; his first nine years were spent in Argentina before his parents, both Russian, moved to Israel then to France and finally to Germany, where he now lives with his second wife, a pianist, and his two teenage sons. He also spent 15 years in London. "It is strange," his Spanish assistant tells me later. "He speaks flawless Spanish, but it is not Argentinian, not from Madrid, not from the north or the south it is impossible to tell where he comes from."

This suits Barenboim. One of the few advantages that the 21st century has over the early 20th and 19th is, he believes, the pluralism of its societies. "Human beings have not only the possibility but almost the duty yes, the duty! to acquire multiple identities." He paddles his arms in a short, expressive backstroke. "That's what globalisation means at its most positive. That you can feel French when you play Debussy, that you feel German when you play Wagner. You do not have to be one thing." He slumps contentedly back on to the sofa as if proud of this idea.

Barenboim has constructed an identity for himself in which he is rooted culturally as a Jew, geographically as an Israeli and temperamentally as a Latino. "It's complicated, but definable. But I have worries about my children. They have a Russian mother and this mixture of a father; they were born in France, but they are not French. They are not Russian. They are not Argentinian. They are not Israeli. They live in Berlin and the language at home is mostly English, but they go to a French school. They say it isn't a problem, but I worry for them."

They are like him, but more so, and he envies them just a little. Barenboim looks longingly back to the 19th century when intellectuals could not only speak five languages but read philosophy in them too. "People like Rubinstein their culture was frightening by its breadth. Rubinstein knew his Dostoevsky in Russian, and he knew his Goethe in German and his Baudelaire in French." He sucks up his energy drink. "When he played the piano, you sensed all of that. Now, most of the intellectuals the writers and the painters behave as if music has nothing to do with them. The musicians live in their own ivory towers and don't associate music with the other arts or even with their emotional lives. What is missing today is the juxtaposition of ideas. This is the problem with contemporary music and with culture in general."

What do his children listen to? He winces. "'Ip-'op," he says and roars with laughter.

This year, the youngest player at the East West summer school is 13, a Palestinian pianist called Kalim, whom Barenboim tutors with parental tenderness. Of the four years the summer school has been running, Barenboim found last year the most tense. The intifada was a year old, and the students were brittle and suspicious of each other. This year, by contrast, things are so terrible in the Middle East that the young musicians are practically clinging to each other in sympathy. "I give them a little speech when they get here," he says. "I say, 'We have a common goal, to create a concert.' I say, 'You must remember that this last year has been dreadful, for everybody. And there's no point saying it was more terrible for us than for them. It's terrible for everybody.' I say to them, 'A wound when it heals, it closes. But the doors, it is only we who can keep them open.' This is not a political thing, it is a human conviction."

Barenboim makes sense of the politics by relating them to music. Yitzhak Rabin, he says, had a very "linear" way of thinking, could handle the horizontal melody of fighting Israel's external enemies, but could not handle the harmony, that is the "vertical pressure" of terrorism from the inside. How would he characterise Ariel Sharon, musically? He laughs unhappily. "Well, I think he is rather unmusical." He allows a fierce little pause. "In Israel, the people with experience have no vision, and the people with vision have no experience. And this is a terrible thing. But the most terrible thing is that there is no alternative I mean, the alternative to Sharon is Sharon plus.

"I think Sharon is leading the country along a path that is, long-term, against the interests of Israel and the Jewish people. Time is not on Israel's side, nor are demographics. To put it musically, it is as if Sharon thinks, 'I will play a fast movement slow, because by playing it slow it will have more expression.' Whereas the expression is linked to a certain speed and the meaning is lost if you play it too slow. It's time that somebody in Israel wakes up and sees that the Jewish people are on a path which, for the first time since the creation of the state, makes one doubt that there will always be a Jewish state in Israel. That would not have been possible 10 years ago."

Barenboim has pitched his life against what he calls "mechanical repetition". He hates it to the extent of subverting perfectly good rehearsal techniques to avoid growing bored a trick that infuriates his colleagues. His time as musical director of the Deutsche Staatsoper, the opera house of the former East Berlin, has taught him to value the mentality of eastern European players over that of musicians from the west. "I find that the people who have lived under a totalitarian regime have a better understanding of democracy and freedom than many people who have only lived in open society. I find, for instance, that they know how to work together so wonderfully and quickly: a vote is taken, it's decided in a wonderfully democratic way. In western orchestras there are clashes and fears of influence of certain groups. I suppose the former east still looks on the bright side of democracy, whereas people in the west have seen the dark side too."

The most talented player he has ever encountered is still, by a long way, Jacqueline du Pre. "Absolutely, absolutely, what she had is rare." The pair were married in 1967, she converted to Judaism and, until she died of multiple sclerosis in 1987, they were Israel's darlings. In the film Hilary and Jackie, she is portrayed as endearing but loopy. Did her talent make her strange? Barenboim sighs. "Well, in a way, there was a part of her that was so childlike. Not childish. Childlike, naive. When she finished playing a highly complex composition, she was perfectly the girl next door. When you were with her, you didn't see a hint of this complexity of her playing." She played, he says, as if she were composing the music as she went along. Did they compete with each other? "Non." He smiles. "We were of different sexes, you know that?"

When he is conducting, Barenboim says, he achieves the perfect state of physical, rational and emotional grace. At the end of a concert, all he wants to hear is silence. "You measure your success not with the volume of the applause, but with the silence with which they listen."

Good days, bad days the only thing that gets him down is fatigue. Everything else is enlightenment. The interview has overrun and he is woefully late for afternoon rehearsal. He shrugs and blinks his currant-black eyes. "There are no rules," he says. "I live my life as I make my music, fighting against routine."



Spain peace prize for Jewish, Palestinian artists
September 4, 2002

Spain on Wednesday awarded its highest peace prize to Jewish musical conductor Daniel Barenboim and Palestinian-U.S. writer and academic Edward Said for their efforts toward peace in the Middle East.

The jury of the Prince of Asturias "concord" prize said a youth orchestra set up by the two men for young Arab and Israeli musicians had influenced their decision.

The jury took into account the men's "generous and laudable work for peace and harmonious living, symbolised by a group of young musicians working together, getting over historical antagonism and adding to dialogue and reflection," said jury chairman Vicente Alvaro Areces.

Barenboim, born in Buenos Aires in 1942, is a concert pianist and conductor who currently heads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Staatsoper Berlin. Writer and essayist Said is a professor at New York's Columbia University.

The annual Prince of Asturias prizes Spain's answer to the Nobels give out eight honours for performance in the arts, sciences, diplomacy and sports. The concord prize awards "exemplary and important works for brotherhood, the fight against poverty, sickness or ignorance, the defence of freedom and the protection of heritage," the foundation said.



'Those who want to leave, do so'
The debate over Wagner resurfaces in Israel at regular intervals. No consensus can yet be expected on this topic
By Daniel Barenboim
The Guardian
September 6, 2002,12102,786392,00.html

Quite understandably, the debate over Wagner resurfaces in Israel at regular intervals. No consensus can yet be expected on this topic.

Bronislaw Huberman founded the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 1936, at a time when no taboo existed against Wagner's works. A few years before, conductor Arturo Toscanini, a well-known anti-fascist, had decided to stop performing at Bayreuth because of Hitler's purging of Jews from public life. The same conductor directed the inaugural concerts of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Israel Philharmonic was independently managed and did not decide, until after Kristallnacht in 1938, to stop performing Wagner. The associations connected to Wagner's music because of its misuse by the Nazis were deemed to be too strong.

During the Israel tour of the Berlin Staatskapelle in July 2001, I was invited to conduct a concert by the Israel festival. The programme included, among other works, music by Wagner. I have the greatest understanding and compassion for all Holocaust survivors and the terrible associations with which Wagner's music is linked. Therefore, I do not believe Wagner's works should be played during concerts for regular season-ticket holders, when faithful subscribers would be confronted with music that raises painful memories.

However, the question must be asked: does anyone have the right to deprive other people, who do not have these same associations, of hearing Wagner's music? This would indirectly serve the misuse of Wagner's music by the Nazis. After all, the Israel Philharmonic's decision to cease performing Wagner's music was not based on Wagner's anti-semitism which had been well established since the 19th century but on the anti-semitism of the Nazis.

Certain decisions are absolutely correct and understandable at the time of their making. However, new developments sometimes make a revision of past decisions necessary. An example of this is the position taken by the Israel Philharmonic, after the second world war and the Holocaust, not to engage soloists and conductors such as Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer, who had converted from Judaism before or during the war. Given the circumstances, this decision was understandable. However, over time this policy was cancelled, as conversion was no longer considered to be a sign of weakness or an attempt to improve one's personal fate through assimilation. Nowadays, there would be no problem in inviting a converted Jew to perform music with the orchestra.

The present debate about Wagner is very similar. In 1938, the decision against his music was understandable, as its terrible associations were too strong. I also understand that some people cannot forget these associations, and one should not ever force them to listen to Wagner's music in concert. However, Israel should also act as a democratic state. This entails not preventing people who are free of these associations from listening to Wagner's music. It is not my intention to wage a missionary's war in favour of Wagner in Israel. I do feel, however, that this is a case where Israel can, and should, define itself as a democracy.

My concert with the Staatskapelle took place in Jerusalem on July 7 2001, with a programme of music by Schumann and Stravinsky and an encore by Tchaikovsky. Afterwards, I turned to the audience and proposed the Prelude and Liebstod from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde as a further encore. Of course I did not want to play Wagner for an audience that was unprepared for it, and therefore I engaged in a long dialogue with the audience that lasted some 40 minutes, indicating that those who wanted to leave should do so, but that if others wanted to hear it, we were ready to play. Some 20 or 30 people left. And the rest stayed and gave us a standing ovation at the end, which gave me the feeling that we had done something positive.

It was only the next day that the scandal really erupted, which means that it was organised by people who were not there but who had some political agenda, which greatly saddens me. In a democratic society like Israel there should be no room for taboos. The boycott of Wagner is very capricious: the Israel Philharmonic is not allowed to play Wagner, but you can buy Wagner records in Israel, you can hear Wagner on Israeli radio, you can see Wagner videos on Israeli television, and you can have a mobile phone that plays The Ride of the Valkyries. I do not believe that someone who sits at home in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem suffers because he knows that in another city someone is playing Wagner.

Unfortunately, the debate about Wagner is linked to the fact that we have not yet made the transition into being Israeli Jews, and that we cling to all sorts of associations with the past which of course were valid and understandable at the time, as a way of reminding ourselves of our own Judaism. Saying that Wagner will not be played in Israel gives us a further link to the Judaism of the 1930s and 1940s.

We need to have a sense of history, but we also need to know who we are today as Israeli Jews. And until we are able to do that, we will not be able to establish a fruitful dialogue with non-Jews. This is why there is a connection between the Wagner issue and the relationship with the Palestinians.

* This is an edited extract from A Life in Music by Daniel Barenboim.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.