Sunday, April 30, 2006

Boom-Boom Barenboim

Gee, had I been aware of this interview I would have been, perhaps, a bit more aggressive with Daniel Barenboim:-

Stuart Wavell talks to Daniel Barenboim

Daniel Barenboim is a Jewish conductor who attracts lightning, most recently when an Israeli minister called him “a real Jew-hater, a real anti-semite”.

He has been accused of worse and it makes him angry...

...Barenboim has condemned as “abhorrent” the film Hilary and Jackie, about the cellist’s relationship with her sister, which depicted a sexually ravenous du Pré. It also brought into the open the fact that while she was ill Barenboim was conducting an affair with the Russian pianist Elena Bashkirova, now his wife. It was an open secret that they were living together in Paris during the last eight years of du Pré’s life, and had two sons, although he continued to care for du Pré in London.

After breaking the Israeli cultural taboo of giving a performance in Jerusalem of Richard Wagner, whose music sometimes accompanied Jews to the gas chambers, he was accused of “cultural rape”. “Someone had to explain to me the meaning of that expression,” he says wryly. While acknowledging Wagner was a virulent anti-semite, Barenboim contends that he was not responsible for Auschwitz.

Last summer his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra of young Israeli and Arab musicians set the Proms alight before playing Ramallah, the Palestinian town under virtual occupation on the West Bank. He feels less at ease in Israel, where he lived briefly as a child, than in Germany, where he runs the Berlin State Opera and is a champion of German music.


The reverberations of Barenboim’s tragic marriage to du Pré have faded, due largely to his candour about his seemingly callous affair with Bashkirova. Last year he broke his silence about du Pré to say: “I took care of Jackie. But I also had to make a living. And then in France I met Elena. I knew her father. One thing led to another. It wasn’t planned.”

Bashkirova was 19 and married to a mentor figure, the Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer, when she defected from the Soviet Union in 1979. In Barenboim she found “somebody who goes into a room and eats up all the light”.

Barenboim’s Divan orchestra of young musicians, which he co-founded in 1999 to “overcome the barrier of ignorance”, has won him many friends. Do they outnumber the enemies he has acquired in Israel? “I don’t think I have lost friends in Israel,” he says.

“The people who have become my enemies there, who are the political nomenklatura, never were my friends. The politicians use very offensive language and call me persona non grata.”

Heatedly, he recalls the “scandal” of his Wagner concert in Jerusalem. The only scandal was the politicians’ reaction, he retorts. “I had a 45-minute discussion with the public before we played it. I said I understood perfectly well if people couldn’t hear this music and they could leave if they wanted. Out of 3,000 people, maybe 100 left the hall.”

Then there was the fuss two years ago when, invited to accept an arts prize in the Knesset, he read out the Israeli declaration of independence to contrast the altruistic motives of the country’s founding fathers with the oppressive policy of the government towards Palestinians.

That earned him an accusation of being anti-semitic, which incenses him. “It is for me totally unacceptable from the point of view of Jewish history to be in a situation where we occupy land and another people for 39 years. I’m sorry, but you can’t call that anti-semitic. Exactly the opposite.”

He was called a “Jew-hater” by Limor Livnat, Israel’s education minister, last September after he refused to grant an interview to an Israel army radio reporter because she was wearing a military uniform at the launch of a book he co-wrote with a Palestinian.

“There were many people who came from Ramallah for the presentation and I thought it was in poor taste to come and ask for an interview in military uniform when for them the uniform is the symbol of the occupation.”

He despairs of the fantasy shared by Israelis and Palestinians that each will wake up one day and find the other has disappeared. “I have no problem with either of those dreams. The problem comes when people are not able any more to differentiate between dreams and reality.” Both sides deserve each other, he implies. “It suits both parties very well not to have a dialogue. But it is not a long-term solution because it ignores the most important fact for me, which is that the destinies of the two peoples are inextricably linked.”

“This horrible stamp of the Nazi period does not have to affect the way Germany perceives itself,” he declares. It’s a strange thing for an Argentinian Jew to say, but Barenboim the musical purist has never been averse to striking discordant notes

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