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The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

Daniel Barenboim, Everything is Connected Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £16.99

By Norman Lebrecht / August 28, 2008

The transformation of Daniel Barenboim from competitive musician to global statesman is a compelling fable of modern times. A daring pianist and ambitious conductor, Barenboim spent his middle years scrapping with French politicians at the Bastille, with Berlin senators at the Staatsoper and with regressive cultural attitudes at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, losing as many battles as he won.

He left Paris aggrieved and Chicago disgruntled. In Berlin he gave the first cultural response to the fall of the Wall with an open-door Beethoven concert, but it was Leonard Bernstein who stole the show by substituting ‘freedom’ for ‘joy’ in the finale of the Ninth and Simon Rattle who beat him to the Berlin Philharmonic.

Barenboim simmered for much of his musical life with ill-concealed irritations. It was only when he found a voice in the Middle East that serenity dawned. His title for this collection of essays, lectures and conversations confirms that Barenboim’s is not a life of two halves, musical and political, but a continuous quest for conflict resolution.

Music, he argues, has no moral value, no healing effect on the human condition. It is a connective art, joining one note to the next and players to each other, a limited aim. But is also allows us to look at problems from a contrary perspective. Ambiguities that we would scorn in politicians and business leaders are the means by which musicians open our ears to unheard possibilities. Much metaphorical tosh has been written about music: Barenboim is refreshingly practical in the parallels he draws.

‘It is essential to understand the difference between power and force,’ he writes in one telling passage. ‘When a musician is told to play with greater intensity, his first reaction is to play louder. In fact, the opposite is required: the lower the volume, the greater the need for intensity.’ Translated into the dialectics of war and peace, he wants less noise, more effort.

His involvement in Israeli-Arab dialogue arose from a chance encounter in a London hotel lobby with Edward Said, a New York-based Palestinian academic and hardline opponent of the Oslo peace negotiations. Friendship bloomed and, from it, an idea to bring together musicians from either side of the 60-year war into a summer orchestra. Barenboim calls his young players ‘pioneers in a new way of thinking for the Middle East’ and collects their stories as if they were pieces in his own jigsaw persona.

A child of Russian refugees in Argentina, Barenboim is the first Israeli to hold Palestinian citizenship. By passing one and two-state solutions, he advocates a vague ‘interdependence’ of two voices in the same narrow land. His narrative errs on the side of naivety and he tends to minimise the entrenched religious and territorial attitudes on both sides. But his optimism lights up these pieces and his Spinozian faith in the power of intellect and civilisation is the basis of a courageous commitment to world peace, when he might more profitably spend his summers at Salzburg and Bayreuth. No musician alive speaks with such authority on the major issues of our times.

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Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]



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