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Mr. Barenboim’s Questionable Culture War

On January 20, 1957, 14-year-old Daniel Barenboim appeared on the stage of Carnegie Hall in company of Leopold Stokowski who conducted the Symphony of the Air. Last night at 74, the pianist showed none of diminished capacities or loss of energy when he played the solo part in the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20 and then conducted the second of Bruckner symphonies in his historical cycle.

After the prolonged ovation, musicians and conductor remained on stage where they were joined by Clive Gillison , the Artistic Director of Carnegie Hall. He briefly reminded the audience Mr. Barenboim’s rich history on that hallowed stage appearing more than 140 times as soloist, chamber musician, accompanist, champion of new music and conductor of the world famous orchestras.

Following those remarks, Maestro Barenboim himself picked up the microphone and began his own reminiscence, especially that first appearance.

At 13, Barenboim auditioned for conductor Stokowski, playing all sorts of repertory, and “Stokie” asked finally if the youngster would like to perform with him in New York as a soloist in a piano concerto. The conversation went sort of like this:

“Yes, Maestro, of course, I would love to...”

“And what would like to play?”

“Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3” (which the child-pianist was just learning)

“Excellent! You will play the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 1!

Barenboim didn’t inform us how long it took him to prepare the difficult score: perhaps one or two weeks.

He also spoke lovingly of Carnegie Hall’s traditions, famed acoustics and where for over 125 years the greatest names in music appeared.

I was so proud that for once, especially on America’s Inauguration Day, the politically involved artist didn’t offer his usual political opinions. I was especially proud of his newly-found reticence when, two days earlier during an interview at radio station WQXR when prodded by the interviewer to give a political comments, he wisely resisted.

But Barenboim wouldn’t be himself if he stayed for too long from displaying his ideals and to talk about the subjects dear to him.

So after a few moments of praising Carnegie Hall, he skillfully segued into his (for me) humbug “worry about the state of culture” in American society. He bemoaned the fact that “on this day, January 20, 2017” (applause) money is not being sufficiently made available for American culture, insisting that culture are not for the elite.

I must disagree. High culture in American society is now and always has been for the elite.

Later the conductor passionately offered similar anodynes about how music facilitates human communication. Yes, Mr. Barenboim, during your performances, orchestra and audience are one community. But the people who make important decisions, affecting the rest of the world, know little, if anything about Anton Bruckner. That is hardly a great discovery.

Then we “learned” that our magnificent culture–music, theater, film, arts, literature–must be preserved. And if so, America will make “the world great”, an obvious stab directed to the President’s line of “making America great again”. The audience still can’t believe that there’s a new sheriff in town.

So, America (he emotionally stated) should adopt a cultural outreach to the world, should set a better example to the other countries and to achieve more that it is going to achieve otherwise.

What can be said about those rambling thoughts? I can only offer what was crossing my mind, when Mr. Barenboim spoke about giving more money to culture to fight the bad, bad world.

It seems ironic that seven decades ago the Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor, which Mr. Barenboim just performed, happened to be a favorite piece of for Joseph Stalin, a leader of the nation which lavished untold amount of money on cultural wars–and even more rubles on building gulags.

So really, Mr. Barenboim, do you believe that the terrible areas of our world will be affected by our literature, art and music? Do you believe that our great culture will be able to change the genocidal attitudes of societies and people who hate us regardless of what we do?

Well, I do have to be fair to Mr. Barenboim, even though I find a lot to disagree with his idealistic point of view and his logic. Mr. Barenboim spewed his (to me) twisted logic and intention to prove that they are on the right side of history but left his remarks for the end when people who didn’t want to listen to him had a relatively easy time to walk out. He was indeed “preaching to the choir”, and the “choir” was only too eager to hear some remarks that pertain to the “new situation in Washington”.

Mr. Barenboim wisely never mentioned the name Meryl Streep.

Tomorrow I will go back to my reviewing and devote time to actual assessment of Mr. Barenboim Mozart performances. Music, in his case, speaks far more logically and more eloquently than words.

Roman Markowicz



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