Paul Dekar was one of the guiding lights for me starting the interfaith peacemakers writing projects. He used to tell brief stories of Baptist peacemaking “saints” at the summer conferences of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. I experienced first-hand the power of inspiration from claiming these role models from our past, turning dim history into a dynamic heritage. Having Paul continue to share stories in this series is appropriate because he lit the vision for me.
Daniel Barenboim (b. 1942)
By PAUL DEKAR
Daniel Barenboim is a Jewish Argentine-born pianist and conductor. Music director of several major symphonic and operatic orchestras, he performs around the world.
In 1952, Barenboim moved to Israel with his family. Two years later, they moved to Salzburg where the young Barenboim took conducting classes. That year, he was invited to perform the Beethoven First Piano Concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic. Barenboim’s father considered it too soon after World War II for a child of Jewish parents to perform in Berlin.
In June 1967, Barenboim and his then fiancée Jacqueline Du Pré gave concerts in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba. They were married in Israel at the Western Wall. After her death in 1987, Barenboim married Russian pianist Elena Bashkirova. They have two sons, both musicians.
Barenboim made his debut conducting opera in 1973. From 1989 to 2006 he served as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He has served simultaneously as music director of the Berlin State Opera, the Berlin Staatskapelle and La Scala opera in Milan, Italy.
Even during the early days of the Nazi era, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra performed Richard Wagner’s music. But after November 9, 1938, when the Kristallnacht presaged the Holocaust, Jewish musicians avoided playing Wagner’s music in Israel because of the use Nazi Germany made of Wagner’s anti-Semitic writings. This informal ban continued when Israel was founded in 1948. In 2000, the Israel Supreme Court upheld the right of the Rishon LeZion Orchestra to perform Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll.
In July 2001, after a concert in Jerusalem with the Berlin Staatskapelle, Barenboim announced he would play Wagner as a second encore. He invited those who objected to leave. A debate ensued. Some in the audience called Barenboim a fascist. In the end, a small number of attendees walked out. The overwhelming majority remained.
Subsequently, a committee of Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, called for Barenboim to be declared a persona non-grata in Israel until he apologized for conducting Wagner’s music. Barenboim has refused to do so.
Despite living abroad, Barenboim visits Israel frequently and has become a champion of the rights of Palestinians. Barenboim formed a close friendship with Edward Said, a leading Palestinian intellectual and musician. In 1999, they jointly founded the West-Eastern Divan orchestra, which brings together every summer a group of young classical musicians from Israel, the Palestinian territories and Arab countries to promote mutual reflection and understanding. In 2002, Barenboim and Said received the 2002 Prince of Asturias Awards for their work in “improving understanding between nations.” In 2004, after Said’s death, Barenboim observed that he had lost a ”soul-mate.”
Daniel Barenboim, Music Quickens Time (London: Verso, 2007)
Edward Said, Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society (New York: Vintage, 2002)
Care to learn more?
Learn more about Daniel Buttry’s series of books on global peacemakers.