Barenboim has had a remarkable career. He made his debut as a pianist in Vienna and Rome when he was only ten years old and in the next three years had performed in Paris, London and New York. He made his first recording in 1954 and subsequently recorded all the Mozart sonatas and concertos, the Beethoven concertos (twice) and the Brahms and Bartok concertos. But then – and we have met this before – he moved on to a complementary career. He conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra in London for the first time in 1967 and was soon invited to conduct many of the great European and American orchestras. He has been director of the Orchestre de Paris, in 1981 conducted Wagner at Bayreuth and has served as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and of the Berlin State Opera, now its conductor ‘for life’. Last year he was named as the principal guest conductor of La Scala Opera in Milan.
In 2004 Barenboim won the annual Wolf Prize. Awarded to living scientists and artists for ‘achievements in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among people’, the ceremony was filmed as part of the Divan documentary.
Looking tense in the crowded Parliament building, Barenboim in accepting the award reminded people that the Israeli Declaration of Independence is based ‘ on freedom, justice and peace…irrespective of religion, race or sex’, contrasting it with Israeli’s treatment of Palestine. Furious with this unexpected response the Israeli Minister of Education stood up and said that the awarding panel was divided on whether it should grant the prize to Barenboim. She had been against it, and was now angry at his ‘attack on the State of Israel’. Quietly he responded that there had been no ‘attack’, but a wish to draw attention to the contrast between precept and politics.
Barenboim is a humanitarian of the first order.
He was the Reith Lecturer of 2006. (Interestingly his friend Edward Said had given the 1993 Lectures). He spoke (in various different cities) on the theme ‘In the beginning was Sound’. We heard some of them and felt that we were meeting a civilised and cultured man of great warmth and distinction. You can hear the lectures on one of the BBC websites. Barenboim is a free spirit in an age of closed minds, and his musicianship and values are to be treasured and honoured by all who care for beauty and justice.