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The sound of engagement

This article is a summary of the interview Daniel Barenboim gave to Sir David Frost. To listen to the 45-minute interview, click the headline below and then the embedded audio-video.

Photo of Daniel Barenboim, 2013, from BBC.

Daniel Barenboim: ‘Spaces of dialogue’

A fascinating insight into one of classical music’s best known and most controversial characters.

The Frost Interview/Al Jazeera
August 04, 2013

Sir David Frost travels to New York to meet the legendary Israeli conductor and pianist, Daniel Barenboim.

A giant in the world of classical music, Barenboim is also a man with very strong political views, and is believed to be the only man alive with both an Israeli and a Palestinian passport, reflecting his deep interest in the Middle East.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1942, he tells Sir David how his Russian-Jewish grandparents originally came to Argentina, a tale he says is ‘a story for Hollywood’.

He also talks about his early life as a young pianist, as the child of two musicians, and describes how Argentina was an important global musical centre in the aftermath of World War II.

He tells Sir David about his first international performance in Salzburg aged just nine and how the conductor Igor Markevitch inspired his decision to study conducting. He says Markevitch thought “he was born to be a conductor” because of his strong rhythmic ability.

Questioned by Sir David about his marriage to the British cellist Jacqueline Du Pre, Barenboim describes her as “probably the most musically talented person” he ever knew.

He gives Sir David an emotional account of their meeting in 1966 and the news, just 18 months later, that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

In a rare and intimate discussion of their relationship during her 18-year fight with MS, he also talks about his affair with Elena Bashkirova, whom he married after Jacqueline’s death.

We also gain an insight into Barenboim’s relationship with his two sons from his marriage to Elena, and how both have pursued musical careers; one as a classical violinist and another as a hip-hop musician.

In particular, the conductor tells Sir David about an argument with the latter about music and how it helped their relationship.

He talks of his move to Israel in 1952 and how the 1970 events of Black September left him convinced of the necessity for reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

Barenboim conducting the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Photo by Chris Christodoulou/BBC

He stresses to Sir David that “the basic point is the Palestinians must have equal rights”. He talks about his friendship with the late Palestinian-American literary professor, Edward Said, with whom he founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, an ensemble made up of young Arab and Israeli musicians.

Barenboim says that “the only hope for the future is creating spaces of dialogue”. During the interview, he invites Sir David to the world famous Carnegie Hall in New York to see the WEDO perform.

The programme also features exclusive behind-the-scenes rehearsals as Barenboim puts his musicians through their paces. Those same musicians also reflect on the importance of the WEDO and what it has been able to achieve.

We discover how he has courted controversy in Israel for his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and faced hatred and insults for his decision to conduct music by Richard Wagner in Jerusalem at the National Festival of Israel.

Referring to Hitler’s love of the composer, Barenboim questions how “a monster … who murdered 6 million Jews … had the capacity to go to a performance of Lohengrin opera by Wagner and be moved to tears?” He concludes that “there was no connection between the two” and that “music has the capacity to create a greater reality”.

Daniel Barenboim bares his life and his soul to Sir David: he is emotional and outspoken. His love of music shines through the whole interview, as do his political beliefs. Along with his public performances, the programme offers viewers the opportunity to see behind-the-scenes footage.

The result is a fascinating insight into one of classical music’s best known and most controversial characters.

Black September

In the interview, Daniel Barenboim attributes his turn to active engagement with the issue of Palestinian rights to Black September, the war between the PLO and the ruling monarchy in Jordan, 1970. Trans-Jordan had governed the West Bank of the Jordan, where most Palestinians lived, until Israel seized it in 1967. Many Palestinians moved to Jordan making Palestinians the majority population in Jordan governed by Palestinian militias the PLO and PFLP. The PLO launched a violent bid to become the government. The Jordanian army reacted with what was effectively a massacre of thousands of Palestinians. The PLO was then evicted and moved to Lebanon. The Palestinian terrorist group Black September was named after these events.

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra
From the WEDO website
Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said named the Orchestra and workshop after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s collection of poems entitled “West-Eastern Divan”, a central work for the evolution of the concept of world culture.

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra has proved time and again that music can break down barriers previously considered insurmountable. The only political aspect prevailing the West-Eastern Divan’s work is the conviction that there will never be a military solution to the Middle East conflict, and that the destinies of the Israelis and Palestinians are inextricably linked. Through its work and existence the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra demonstrates that bridges can be built to encourage people to listen to one another.

Music by itself can, of course, not resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Music grants the individual the right and obligation to express himself fully while listening to his or her neighbour. Based on this notion of equality, cooperation and justice for all, the Orchestra represents an alternative model to the current situation in the Middle East.

An equal number of Israeli and Arab musicians form the base of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, together with a group of Spanish musicians. They meet each summer in Seville for a workshop, where rehearsals are complemented by lectures and discussions, which is then followed by an international concert tour. Since its creation in 1999, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra has performed in most European countries, the Americas and the Middle East. In August 2003 the Orchestra played for the first time in an Arab country with a concert in Rabat, Morocco; and in 2005 it performed in the Middle East for the very first time with a concert in Ramallah, Palestine, which was broadcast live by ARTE.

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