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Editorial: Barenboim’s Brexit speech was out of order

July 17, 2017 by norman lebrecht

110 comments.


On the first night of the BBC Proms, the German-based pianist Igor Levit played Beethoven’s Ode to Joy in Liszt’s solo-piano reduction as a token of his opposition to Britain leaving the EU. His was a reasoned and reasonable gesture by an artist who has strong views and wished to express them in music alone.

Not so Daniel Barenboim who, before conducting Elgar’s Second Symphony at the Proms last night, announced that ‘Elgar makes the best case against Brexit … because he was a pan-European composer.’

This was out of order.

The Proms are, and must be, politically neutral. Except on the Last Night, when the conductor gets to say a few words (usually too many) and on rare tragic occasions such as 9/11, the job of the conductor is to be seen, not heard. If he wishes to make speeches he can do so before and after in media interviews but the Proms podium is not a place for sermons, however brief or apposite.

Using the Proms as a political platform risks damaging a national treasure. What if a pro-Brexit conductor were to get up and demands equal time? Or a Corbynist? Or an Erdogan supporter? Barenboim should not have spoken.

Which is not to say he is entirely to blame for the lapse. The fault lies with the weak men – David Pickard and Alan Davey – who are employed (in titular BBC parlance) to control the Proms and their broadcasts but who plainly failed to do so. They need to be carpeted by the BBC’s DG, Tony Hall, if he still has the carpet to do so.

Despite a wonderful performance of Elgar’s less favoured symphony, this was a very bad night for the reputation of the BBC Proms.


photo: Chris Christodoulou/LebrechtMusic&Arts

UPDATE: This post can also be read, likely with a different range of comments, on the Spectator website.

NB: Barenboim made the specific Brexit remark quoted above in an interview with Tom Service that was screened just before the live Second Symphony performance. He made a speech in similar vein to the audience after the performance, attacking isolationism though not making further comment on Brexit.


Comments (110)

  1. Mike says:

    I disagree. He didn’t say anything about brexit, it was more about how music brings unity across the world because it is the same language across the world. I also thought the audience agreed with him given the applause. I wish more conductors would talk about world peace.

    1. Tony says:

      The myth of transferable skills never goes away.
      DB is a great musician and should follow his own principle of eschewing words and focussing on the universality of music and creativity.
      The post-Elgar speech wrecked the atmosphere of the second symphony and brought us back down to earth with a bang.
      Leave political speeches for other occasions, we have far too many already.
      Donald Trump has the wisdom not to conduct Elgar, Daniel Barenboim should acquire the wisdom to stick to what he is good at.
      Sincere DB is I am sure, but in this context he comes over as a prize plonker.

      1. Mathieu says:

        Oh because Trump is *good* at politics & political speeches? You must be kidding

        1. Tony says:

          I don’t think I said Trump was *good* at politics & political speeches. Nonetheless it is more than arguable that he has achieved some success in winning the election and in building on the commercial TRUMP brand as a consequence, which will do his enterprises and bank balance a lot of good. After all, DT is now resident in the White House as “POTUS”, or “SCROTUS” (Supposed Chief Republican of the United States) as some term. Many would define becoming President of the USA as a success.

          Daniel Barenboim hoisted himself thoroughly when he spoke eloquently of the eternal value and integrity of high art because it goes beyond simple words and sentences open to misunderstanding or non-understanding – then he started spouting politics.

          There are times and places for politics, and wrecking a Proms evening in the way he did was unprofessional and arrogant.

          1. Petros Linardos says:

            I agree about both Barenboim and Trump.
            Trump is an amazing salesman, liar and manipulator. Those skills transferred successfully to politics: he won all the way to the presidency. This is reflected in his popularity: he is the most unpopular president since polling began, but so far holds on to a base in the 40% range remarkably well. Trump’s political skills or the consequences of his presidency are another matter – lets not get started.

            Popularity:
            https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/six-months-in-trump-is-historically-unpopular/

            Lies:
            https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/23/opinion/trumps-lies.html

      2. will says:

        Total Rubbish!

    2. ben LEGEBEKE says:

      Ridiculous remark by an overrated conductor. He did in the past some good Wagner (Teldec)& Bruckner (CSO/DG) on record. He has never been a real conductor,but somebody who got all the changes other people didn’t got. But fot what reason? His Beethoven sonates on DG sound so harsh and understudied ,with the wrong phrasing that it is impossible to listen to it longer than 5min!

      1. will says:

        The ‘software’ of this website is appalling. My ‘+1’ was commenting on MIKE’s posting!

    3. Jakes McCarthy says:

      Elgar a pan European composer, all balls. Sure his music was obsolete even before he composed it! In any case the Brits had an Empire on which the sun never set, now gone for a Burton.

  2. Sue says:

    I’ve long found Barenboim a pompous and self-actualizing bore, largely without any sense of humour.

    1. will says:

      -1.
      You CANNOT be serious…

    2. HMS Brexit says:

      The composer of Land of Hope and Glory is a European composer, Barenboim is really deluded. Today he would be composing an anthem on the words Three cheers for the Brexiteers!

      They need to stop conductors, pianists etc from making statements they are just hired entertainers, not career politicians.

    3. Anna Livia Plurabelle says:

      It would have been better had Bareboim recited the Anna Livia Plurabelle section of Finnegans Wake! It is a conversation between two Dublin washer women in dense puns, the nearest anyone has come to writing words sounding like music.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8kFqiv8Vww

    4. Pete says:

      Well said Sue, a pompous prick indeed. I squirmed when he lectured us.

  3. DESR says:

    I agree, Norman. He is a great musician and humanitarian, but what has Brexit to do with Elgar, or Elgar with the EU? European civilisation pre-dated the EU by quite some way.

    Seems to be open season for such displays and outbursts, safe in the knowledge that no one will dare boo!

    Hardly very brave, but definitely ill-judged, for the reasons you set out.

    It is a little irksome to have visiting musicians making so free with their opinions about matters of democratic concern to the citizens of the UK, as expressed in the referendum last year. I cannot think other countries would be so tolerant – still less on the ‘state’ broadcaster at an event funded by the majority Brexit-voting public!

    Maybe this it is ultimately to the good, but it is taking the traditional British tolerance for some fairly rigorous exercise.

    1. Derek Warby says:

      And that European civilisation was constantly at war; something we have, happily, now avoided for more than 70 years.

      1. DESR says:

        I think it took the two great wars of the 20th century to underline the need to avoid that. It was not driven by the institutions of the EU, though ostensibly that is why they developed. But it has never ‘kept the peace’. NATO has done that, with the heavy aid of the US. You can argue it has exercised soft power to that end, and/or that by binding countries together it has become impossible to attack neighbours. But many of us would say that free trade and modern communications (as well as the increasing dominance of the English language beyond the Anglosphere) are chiefly responsible for that – and you do not require the EU as presently constituted in order to trade freely, or indeed to communicate with others.

        1. David Nice says:

          I can’t believe the hostility I’m reading on here, starting with NL. Elgar IS European; Nimrod is the portrait of a German based on a German’s sonata theme (the slow movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata). Pomp and Circumstance 1 starts with a homage to Delibes. He went to Bayreuth, learnt so much about orchestration from Wagner. And his symphonies are world class, on a level with Mahler. I haven’t listened to Barenboim’s speech, and I know he can come across as pompous, but I applaud him for saying what he did. Though it’s true, the Proms as the ultimate representative of what connects us all speaks through its music and its range of artists.

  4. erich says:

    Frankly, enough aleady! Barenboim is possibly the greatest all-round musician in the world today and in that capacity, a genius. The problem is that he assumes ‘world statesman’ status for himself and thereforefeels empowered to spout on any and all topics, political or otherwise, when the mood takes him. Being, sadly like so many prominent figures, surrounded by sycophants, there is nobody to tell him to stick to the day job and otherwise just shut up.

  5. Steven says:

    Agreed. And it was doubly out of order that Barenboim had the gall to claim that Leavers need to be better educated and are complicit in the disintegration of European culture. I blogged about this FWIW: https://sluggingavampire.wordpress.com/2017/07/17/politics-at-the-proms/

    1. DESR says:

      You have put it very eloquently in your blog.

  6. E.F. Mutton says:

    Barenboim and other cultural marxists preach involuntary integration and open borders; but emotions, ideology and polemical gesturing are the only rhetorical means they are capable of employing.
    Economics, logic, mathematical calculation and the situation of the average working individual are completely irrelevant for these people. The state is by definition large enought to finance any harebrained scheme they dream up and if the money is not there it will be taxed out of the middle class.

  7. Stephen says:

    This from Stephen 2! I don’t consider Barenboim’s speech out of place as it is not overtly political since he speaks about education and culture – or the lack of it. Too much of school and university education all over Europe puts the accent on the acquiring of pre-packaged facts rather than thought and the arts are too often neglected altogether or used as timetable fillers.

    1. Steven says:

      Fellow Steven, I agree with you in part. He was right to point out the sorry state of music and arts education. The problem is, he identified political one side as being well-educated and the other side, by implication, as not. He identified one political side as those who foster European culture and the other side as those who put it at risk. And he appropriated the music of a dead composer to further a modern political point. Was this really suitable?

      1. Steve P says:

        Third Steve time (given name Stephen)! Arts education does not flourish under conservative outcome-based education, so if Barenboim is stating that the majority of Brexiters are in favor of less arts funding he is probably not far off. Motivating a base in order to arouse their support of the arts is something he should do as a respected veteran artist.

        1. Steven says:

          This could easily descend into a Python sketch. Steven 1 again. Conservatives (small ‘c’) generally favour a classical education, which is the opposite of outcome-based. It’s about studying great works because studying them is intrinsically good. If one were to be partisan, it’s the left who is jeopardising music education by so severely dumbing it down. You’re right that some conservatives seem to want to cut arts funding, though, and I disagree with them.

          If a conductor made a speech during a concert about how one political side, implied to be the left, were dumbing down and diluting arts education, audiences would rightly be irritated, no?

        1. Derek Warby says:

          Is this a 10-minute Steve-fest or the full half-hour?

  8. Rosalind says:

    Amazing how many people here feel entitled to make rude and unpleasant comments whilst suggesting that Barenboim’s freedom to speak should be restricted. Maybe Norman also is just being provocative, or maybe his judgemental headline is another example of failure to uphold the right to freedom of speech. Is it better to chunter away in the background of forums like this, than to speak openly? Only in fascist dictatorships is the right denied to speak openly of a personal opinion.

    1. Mathieu says:

      Critizing what someone said and abridging their freedom if speech are two different things altogether.

      That said, I don’t find Barenboim’s speech reprehensible. The idea that the concert hall is a sacred, holy politics-neutral space has always baffled me.

      1. George King says:

        Yes indeed.

      2. Mikey says:

        the problem is the number of people on this blog who are saying that Barenboim should NOT talk. They aren’t criticizing, they are proposing that his right to speak be curtailed.

  9. Ben says:

    The full text does not explicitly mention BREXIT but one could interpret the speech with strong undertone about it.

    Freedom of speech != Freedom to say anything at anywhere to anybody in any occasion.

    Nevertheless, it’s a decent speech.

    P.S. Sir Rattle or The Genius on Fire or The Dude gets newspaper/magazine/radio coverage all the time. No need to resort to in-concert speech like this. DB, however, doesn’t seem to get this kind of love.

  10. Alistair Hinton says:

    I had no problem with it, although I confess to being somewhat surprised that he gave it. Whatever relevance it might have had to Brexit is largely in the ears of the beholders as he exercised the discretion not to refer specifically to that. It was also good to hear a fine German orchestra in not only Elgar’s greatest symphony but also in P&C1 without the dreadful jingoistic doggerel of Arthur Christopher Benson that has for so long seemed to be inextricable therefrom, à propos which (if I may be permitted a momentary indulgence), in an affectionate musical parody of a P&C March, I added (albeit only in the notes to the score!) a similar verse that fits but shall “never never be sung” to the melody of its Trio section that runs:
    No land, nor hope, nor glory’s to be won;
    For our march is not a military one.
    No! no bombs nor muskets – we disapprove of these;
    No more army, no more air force – a plague on IEDs
    Forever. And my sword SHALL sleep in SOMEONE ELSE’S hand.
    No Empire; the map’s not coloured pink!
    Bring me my PEN AND INK.

    Sorry.

    1. Steve P says:

      I enjoyed educating myself regarding your very British references.

      1. Alistair Hinton says:

        Thank you. I mistyped one, though, which should have read “never never shall be” (for obvious RuleBritannic reasons)…

  11. Scott says:

    Out of interest, can any name a pro-Brexit conductor…?

    1. DESR says:

      Hmmm…. Naughty but nice question! None that are ‘out’.

      But we recognise each other by signs, tokens, and words.

    2. Halldor says:

      The truth – and believe me, this is grounded in experience – is that classical music is a small world, overwhelmingly leaning (often more by tribal habit than any real thought) to the urban left. People of that particular political leaning have a habit of regarding those who express dissenting opinions as not merely wrong, but morally deficient.

      Hence anyone working in classical music in the UK who openly expressed views that diverge from (at its mildest) centre-left orthodoxy, would have difficulty finding work. It would actually damage their career. (I know of one UK orchestra where the senior management actually instructed employees on the ‘correct’ way to vote in the EU referendum). Hence they keep quiet, though they certainly exist.

      It’s not a big deal; this isn’t a claim that they’re victims. Tact is all it takes. But it does explain the outward lack of political nuance amongst people whose job, you might think, should make them more rather than less open-minded.

      1. will says:

        Thank you Mr A. Butterfield!

    3. Thornhill says:

      I’ve seen a number of prominent UK based musicians point out that Brexit could complicate the visa process for UK musicians touring abroad and non-UK musicians touring in the UK.

      1. David Nice says:

        Why are 97 per cent of ‘creatives’ anti-Brexit? Because it needlessly knocks on the head the right to exchange ideas across borders, to open one’s mind to other cultures. It’s not even a left or right thing. I’m devastated for all the brilliant young European musicians studying at our colleges, not least because of the abuse they tell me they’re getting when they speak their own language in public. The opinions may be expressed here, but they strike me as pitifully small-minded.

  12. Halldor says:

    He seems to have made two completely different speeches last night – one pre-concert, for broadcast (which mentioned Brexit) and a long, rambling one from the podium after the first encore which was more generic (and which made me – and quite a few other people judging from the exodus while he spoke – miss my train).

    I think these two separate things are getting a bit entangled in the general reaction. If nothing else, last night’s Prom was a wonderful demonstration of how great music can deal with complex issues more subtly and with infinitely greater depth and sophistication than half-baked words. Though of course, no-one’s talking about the actual music now, are they?

    1. Mercurius Londiniensis says:

      I think the point about missing trains is the crucial one. Mr Barenboim’s views on how music can break down national barriers are humane, sensible but, by now, very well known. It is poor manners to inconvenience audience members by giving them yet another airing at the end of a long concert.

      The only ‘political’ end-of-performance speech that I have at all appreciated also took place at the Royal Albert Hall. At the end of a concert performance there of the Ring in the autumn of 1998, Bernard Haitink asked us all to write to our MPs to help him save the ROH orchestra, which had played magnificently over all four evenings but whose very existence was then in jeopardy. His speech was all the more powerful for lasting only 15 seconds.

  13. RICHARD CRAIG says:

    SUE I THINK YOU MEAN WINDBAG!!!!

    1. Jaybuyer says:

      Love it!

  14. Chris says:

    So according to Barenboim – in his pre-performance comments – Elgar’s Second Symphony is an “anti Brexit statement”! I always thought Elgar drew his inspiration from the surrounding beauty of the Malvern Hills, now I realise it was just the Common Agricultural Policy all along!

    1. DESR says:

      Very funny! Middle stump out of the ground.

      1. David Nice says:

        He never said that. But it IS a European, a world-class symphony. He took some inspiration from the Malverns and the rivers, but much also from his travels around Europe, especially to Italy (the third movement is supposed to derive from street performers in Venice, though it’s a much more dangerous and demonic scherzo than that might suggest). He may have been Conservative with a capital C, the son of a shopkeeper who longed to be accepted in high society – incidentally one of the very few great British composers not left-leaning – but his personality is much more complex.

  15. He didn’t even mention ‘brexit’, he was saying that alongside education, a common European and indeed global culture is a necessary and positive force if we want to tackle isolationism and religious extremism.

    What he said wasn’t overtly political, it just made sense. If brexiters find it necessary to call for artists to be prevented from speaking freely just because it challenges their aims, then they’ve already lost the argument.

  16. Gervase says:

    Is Barenboim an egotist?Please!With his stupendous accomplishments he has every right to be a little pleased with himself.More important he is a thinking and caring man and has a mission.Listen to him!He knows more than most of us.Go Maesro!To me he is a hero!

      1. DESR says:

        Sorry, got to take one off again -1

  17. John says:

    Anyone — including you, Norman — who doesn’t expect Daniel Barenboim to speak out, especially in a major forum like The Proms, has forgotten DB’s passionate commitment to causes he cares about. Perhaps once in a while, when historical circumstances merit, setting aside decorum in service of a cause that — if polls can be believed — at least half of the United Kingdom supports, is worth doing.

    A friend of mine posted his speech on Facebook. I’ll copy his whole post here. I think most will find it not distasteful or offensive. (Perhaps a bit windy, but at times Elgar himself can come off a bit windy, too.) In a fitting finale/encore, the orchestra played Pomp & Circumstance March #1, with it’s all-too-fitting tune, “Land of Hope and Glory”. Now here is my friend Peter’s post. (He was there)

    —–

    Daniel Barenboim conducted the Orchestra Staatskappelle Berlin at the BBC Proms last night, giving an impassioned speech for European unity at the end of the performance.

    The 74-year old Jewish musician and conductor played an entirely English programme with his European orchestra, including Elgar’s second symphony and the UK premiere of Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s Deep Time.

    At the end of the evening, he addressed the crowd, saying he “would like to share with you some thoughts that I have.

    “Not political”, he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

    “Not political, but rather of a human concern. When I look at the world with so many isolation [sic] tendencies, I get very worried.

    “And I know I’m not alone”, he said, prompting applause from the crowd.

    “You know, I lived in this country for many years. I was married in this country and I lived here for many years, and I was shown so much affection whilst I lived here that this kind of gave me the impetus, if you want, to say what I would like to say.
    “I think the main problem today is not the policies of this country and of that country. The main problem of today is that there is not enough education.

    “That there is not enough education for music, we’ve known for a long time. But now there is not enough education about whom we are, what is a human being, and how he is to relate with others of the same kind.

    “That’s why I say it is not political, but of human concern. If you look at the difficulties that the European continent is going through now, you can see why that is, because of the lack of common education. Because in one country they don’t know why they should belong to something where there are other countries too. And I’m not talking about this country now. I’ll come to that.

    “I’m talking in general. You know, our profession, the musical profession, is the only one that is not national. No German musician will tell you ‘I am a German musician, and I will only play Brahms, Schumann and Beethoven. We had very good proof of it tonight.
    “If – let me stay out of Great Britain – if a French citizen wants to learn Goethe, he has to have a translation. But he doesn’t need a translation for the Beethoven symphonies.

    This is why music is so important. And these isolationist tendencies and nationalism in its very narrow sense is something that is very dangerous and can only be fought with a real, great accent on the education of the new generation.

    “We are probably all too old for that”, he said, gesturing at himself and the crowd.
    “But the new generations, they have to understand that Greece and Germany and France and Denmark all have something in common called European culture.
    “Not only the Euro. Culture. This is really the most important thing. And also in this cultural community called Europe there is a place for diverse cultures, for different cultures, for a different way of looking at things. But this can be done only with education. And the fanaticism that exists in the world, with religious backgrounds, can also only be fought with education.

    “Religious fanaticism cannot be fought with arms alone. The real evils of the world can only be fought with a humanism that keeps us all together. Including you.

    “And I’m going to show you that I really mean it”, he said, and with the applause of the audience, turned to the orchestra and launched into Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance”, a piece considered iconically British.
    Daniel Sugarman
    July 17, 2017

    1. DESR says:

      It was his pre-concert remarks which caused the ‘offence’. The post-concert stuff was indeed a little long-winded but unobjectionable. Indeed, he makes the point that it is culture, specifically music within that, that defines and binds Europe across the nations. It is indeed really not about the Euro.

    2. John Borstlap says:

      Excellent speech.

      1. David Nice says:

        Thanks for transcribing it.

  18. sonicsinfonia says:

    Thank you for quoting the full text of the speech which was not, as I heard it on the TV, much about Brexit but of how music transcends boundaries, the dangers of isolationism and of education being a prequisite in opposing extremism. DB has used music to campaign for tolerance and freedoms for as long as most of us have been going to concerts…

  19. Angela Borochov says:

    Dani Barenboim has always been outspoken and is a great musician in so many sphéres.His work with the Divan orchestra promoting peace with young Israeli and Arab musicians is brilliant.What was nice was his warm embrace giving honours to the composer Harrison Birtwhistle.Everyone refers to Brexit so why the big hoohaa ?

    1. Una says:

      He’s done and achieved more with that orchestra in breaking down barriers than any politician I know, and it’s not bern an easy ride either.

      1. Mike Schachter says:

        What exactly are the barriers that have been broken down?

  20. Maya says:

    I wonder what Beethoven would have to say about music not being political and being strictly abstract while dedicating Eroica to Napoleon … or Handel whilst writing Agrippina and composing patriotic oratorios… or Mozart when choosing plays by revolutionary de Beaumarchais for his operas … or refugee Chopin … or Verdi … or Muti https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=the9_fs1Za0

    1. David Ward says:

      Quite!

      FWIW, I wholeheartedly approve of both the contents of Barenboim’s speech and of the fact that he made it.

        1. DESR says:

          Oh dear not, again. -1. Can you make some actual comments of your own now?

  21. Alexander Hall says:

    Come on, Norman. You would be the first today to condemn conductors like Karajan and Furtwängler for not speaking out against German fascism. Why do you deny people like Barenboim the right to assert his views about potentially the most damaging and self-inflicted wound on the fabric of British society? If you saw somebody hurtling towards the cliff-top in an open-topped car, would you stand idly by and call out, “If that’s what you want, carry on regardless”?

  22. Alistair Hinton says:

    “Out of order”? Recalling the famous Andrew Preview / Morecambe & Wise sketch (partly because I’m sadly old enough to be able to do so!), I have to say that, whilst Barenboim’s speech after the Elgar was a little hesitant (probably due to tiredness on his part), the words all seemed to me to be more of less in the correct order…

  23. Mark Mortimer says:

    Wrong in my opinion Norman. I listened to the whole speech. By ‘isolationist tendencies’ he may have been implying Brexit was a bad idea but he didn’t actually ever mention the word I recall. He’s already said what he thinks- over his concerns on the impact of fellow musicians by the break up of the EU- so nothing new there.

    But his wider points on lack of education- isolation of different cultures were spot on. He’s a highly intelligent man- perhaps a bit of a self promoter (always has been since his days with Du Pre) but I think he’s a genuine humanitarian who really cares. Btw also- the way the Berliners played Pomp & Circumstance was far more stirring than we ever get by the BBCSO at the Last Night.

    1. Una says:

      I’ve just listened to it all again – with Land of Hope and Glory playing so well as I write – and I don’t hear anything about Brexit. Just what happens when education and culture are missing in life and his dig religious fanaticism which can stem from that lack. Wait for what he’ll says next year!

    2. Halldor says:

      Again: he made two (2) completely separate speeches that night.

      One was broadcast, in which he explicitly mentioned Brexit. Norman is talking about this one.

      One was made from the podium between encores, in which he talked about education and the threat of separateness and did not mention Brexit (in fact he said “I am not talking about this country”). You’re talking about that one.

      1. David Nice says:

        Point taken. But the argument is still horribly skewed. If you don’t like the Brexit reference, can you not at least agree with everything Barenboim said in the longer speech? I’d cry shame on anyone who didn’t. The debate can continue over whether he should have said it or not – I think he has the right, having practised for so long what he preaches – but contradiction of the sentiment just shames the commenter.

  24. Graham Fiske says:

    I’m wondering if the people who think Barenboim should “shut up and just do his job” are the same ones who criticize Dudamel for his lack of speaking out about the political situation in Venezuela.

  25. Gaffney Feskoe says:

    Not to put too fine a point on this controversy, but it puts me in mind of Toscanini. Everyone knew where he stood on the world affairs of his day, but to my knowledge he never made a speech about it at a concert.

    1. will says:

      Cowardly then…!

      1. Mike Schachter says:

        Toscanini consistently avoided playing in Italy, Germany or Axis-occupied countries and said so. Who are you to call him cowardly?

    2. John says:

      It was a different era. In letters to Hitler and Winifred Wagner, he didn’t mince words. There are many other examples of his courage and conviction.

  26. Paul Kelly says:

    Norman, I find your editorial a little puzzling and rather odd. I would argue that all great art is a product of the environment it is created and performed in. At the root of both those environments – which may be centuries apart – is a set of values. If those values start to change in such a way that threatens the ability to create and to perform then surely someone needs to speak out. Martin Niemoller’s poem “First they came for the Socialists comes to mind…” A succession of tiny cuts can lead to massive haemorrhages. Border restrictions caused either by terrorism, or by more local political ideology could in years to come inhibit the ability of musicians of all styles to visit and perform in other countries. If that stopped German or French orchestras or from wherever visiting and performing in Britain I am sure you would be reporting this in Slipped Disc in critical terms. Freedom of movement is a difficult issue. Personally I don’t hear Elgar as a pan-European composer, and perhaps Barenboim is stretching a point there. But we should cherish the current situation that allows an Argentinian born conductor to conduct a German orchestra playing British music in one of Britain’s cultural institutions (the series and the hall). Some of the political direction of travel, whatever you choose to call it, may make that harder or even impossible in years to come. Barenboim is right to speak and doubly right to talk about education and humanity. Sounds like his comments were quite warmly received too

  27. John says:

    Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,
    How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?
    Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set;
    God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet,
    God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.

    Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set….

    1. David Nice says:

      Wrods set to the great tune of Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 trio tune some time after its composition. Not relevant, the wider still and wider bit, now. And the March starts with an idea transforming one in Delibes’ Sylvia. Elgar was always a musical European and citizen of the world.

  28. Jonathan Sutherland says:

    Barenboim’s passionate belief that ‘Alle Menschen werden Brüder’ is indisputable. With the West-Eastern Divan orchestra, he went past mere philosophical concepts and actually created a living corpus of music-making through non-partisan cooperation and ‘dump the dogma’ repudiation of political intolerance.
    Whilst a Prom concert may not be the forum which first comes to mind as a place to proselytize, at least the speech was given at the end of the performance. Objectors or Tube-hasteners could easily leave as the musical component of the evening was over.
    Riccardo Muti’s interruption of a performance of Nabucco in Rome in 2011 to speak against cuts to the Italian culture budget in the presence of Il Cavaliere himself, was vastly more intrusive but unquestionably sincere, heart-felt, courageous and called for.
    Surely we should acknowledge that in momentous times it is incumbent on leading internationally respected figures in the arts to speak out if they believe it necessary. The Burkean ‘triumph of evil’ admonition comes immediately to mind. If Fox News is the conduit for fanatics and political fraudsters, then why not the Royal Albert Hall as a post-performance ad hoc rostrum of conscience and reason? I suspect egalitarian-minded Sir Henry Wood would have agreed.

    1. John Borstlapj says:

      Talking at concert podia is always a good thing, it seems to me, be it as relating to the music or to the world, it breaks the distance between teh eprformers and the audience, it becomes more ‘humane’. It all depends what is said and by whom and for what.

      I don’t think that prospective players of the Divan orchestra have to first overcome political intolerance; when opting for a place, they have already left such things behind, otherwise you would never want to be in that orchestra. So, as a ‘proof’ that political adversity can be ‘overcome’, the orchestra is not very convincing, but that is not the point: it is about forming an artistic community dedicated to music where national, ethnic or political background is irrelevant. And as such it is a symbol of transcendence and humanisn and civilization.

      Alas, it won’t contribute anything to the perpetrators of injustice, violence, suffering from murderous delusions, i.e. people who have left being human behind. No ISIS fighter or Hamas killer will be inspired to rethink his ideology on hearing DB with his Divan orchestra playing the Tristan prelude. It is like discussing the rebellion of the starved peasants over tea at Versailles while they are on their way to the party with their pitch forks.

  29. Interested Party says:

    I’m so unbelievably bored of this notion that classical music and classical music events aren’t or should not be political. They are political in their very essence, always have been and always should be. This feels like a debate between the Classic FM audience and the real world. The inclusion of Beethoven 9 in every Proms series is itself a political act. As could the inclusion of emerging orchestras from all over the world last year etc. Not to mention the nationalism of the Last Night of the Proms, which many people also find to be objectionable. The canon, as represented in the programming of festivals such as the proms, is in a large part formed in the way it is because of political history. Artists and administrators are given a platform, and the decisions they make and the performances they give are deeply connected with politics and the society in which they exist. So we get the odd expression of this connection: don’t listen, stick your fingers in your ears, switch over to another channel or maybe even listen, but don’t try to shut them down.

    1. John Borstlapj says:

      The connection between classical music and poitics is much more complex than this comment suggests. Is Bach’s Musikalisches Opfer politically-motivated music because it was written in respectful tribute to the Prussian king? Is a Haydn symphony a political statement because it was written in the service of a prince who may have suppressed the proletariat in the Hungarian plain? Is the ‘message’ of freedom and self-determination in Beethoven symphonies a political message? There may be a political component in them but it has been elevated above that level. The heroicisms in Beethoven stem from the French revolutionary music accompanying nationalistic festivities, but they have been transcended in nr III, V, and even IX where they are universalized. It is as with slogans: liberté, fraternité, égalité can mean many different things in different contexts but as psychological tendencies they can be universalized.

      Wagner thought that music and politics were one thing and he bumped into quite problematic territory with this opinion and was banned from the Munich court because of his meddling in his patron’s job. How political is Chopin – except his ‘revolutionary’ etude? And Brahms – is his music mere teutonic patriottism? How political is Mahler’s music, with all those fanfares, apparently stemming from childhood impressions of military barracks – is he celebrating Austrian military prowess at those places in his symphonies? And what about Fauré, Debussy, Ravel? Is Stravinsky’s Russian folklore politically-motivated/loaded? With Shostakovich we have another case altogether and that is still controversial. Etc. etc.

      And indeed music can be misused when transcended ‘messages’ are pulled back into political service but that does not mean that music is always politically infected.

  30. Dennis Sharpe says:

    would it be ok for another conductor to make a speech denouncing the EU and diversity ? if not why not

    1. DESR says:

      The man makes a rather good point… He is my +1

  31. HMS Brexit says:

    What is the hidden agenda here? What is the common denominator between Levit & Barenboim. its obvious. They are scared of nationalism in the EU. Why shouldn’t the UK pull up the drawbridge, albeit rather belatedly. They are not leaving Europe, they are leaving the EU, it looks like the UK will crash out and leave without paying the bill, trebles all round. Others will follow as the SS EU Gravy Train is sinking fast.

    1. John Borstlapj says:

      Sorry to contradict you. It appears that brexit turns-out to be not so benefitting as the brexitteers have promised. The BBC informed its watchers yesterday that in the negotiations, the UK have no plan, the people having to deal with it on the UK side all contradict each other so much that EU officials don’t know whom to talk to, economically the perspectives are not good, workers returning to the continent, industries feeling the reluctance of work forces to come to the UK, and the EU has come together forming a thought-through plan and proposals. Other EU countries, seeing the political chaos in the UK and foreseeing its economic decline, suddenly feel no longer any inclination to follow the UK example. The specacle of British incompetent politics is embarrassing.

  32. John G. Deacon says:

    Brexit will turn out to be the best thing that has happened to Britain since WWII and if these artists are wrong for dutifully following the standard “luvvie” line at least Barenboim gave us a rip-roaringly good Brexit tune to end with.

  33. Derek Warby says:

    The essence of his speech could apply to people all over the world – not just Europe, the EU or Britain. Nationalism, intolerance, protectionism and isolationism are destroying millions of lives and endangering peace. I’m not Barenboim’s greatest fan, either as a musician or as a person, but we need to remember his understanding of and efforts to address the tensions and inhumanities we see in the territories to be found inland of that eastern shore of the Mediterranean. I think that gives him a little bit of insight…

    1. John Borstlapj says:

      Agreed. But the suspicion with DB is always that he uses such topics to fuel his ego in public space, as if music making is not enough for him.

  34. Jim Brennan says:

    So people shouldn’t be reminded of politics at the Proms? Fine – run them exclusively with British orchestras and British soloists under British conductors playing the music of non-EU composers. And if that means no Scots or Irish or Welsh, so be it. And somehow I don’t remember anyone ruling out politics at the Proms in 1968 after the Russian reoccupation of Czechoslovakia on the night Rostropovich and a Russian orchestra played Dvorak.

    1. DESR says:

      The clue, and the trick, is to let the music do the talking. And very likely it will ‘mean’ whatever you wish, in the moment. No need to lecture the audience before AND after, as Barenboim did.

      Imagine Thielemann standing up to discourse to the Prommers on the value of German Art and Tradition or some such. It would not be a concert, it would be a lecture with musical illustrations. Which has its place (jolly interesting etc) but in the context of a public concert, inevitably political meaning would be ascribed to it – even when those such as Christian (‘there is nothing political in C major’) Thielemann would actually reject this analysis.

      And Brexit is way more of a touchy subject than my example of CT extolling German musical tradition! So better to keep schtum.

  35. Daniel says:

    I could not disagree more, Norman. I am grateful that there are still some musicians who have something to say that goes beyond their scores. Daniel Barenboim is certainly one of them and he is well known for having strong political opinions.

  36. Susan Stansell says:

    It was a beautiful and heart-rending speech about humanity and the value of education. Art is about discovering new truths, so this was perfectly put, I felt. How could anyone rationally interpret it in any other way? It was an appeal to the good side of our character and to allow our heads to make the final choice in matters of such magnitude. A lovely, thoughtful man.

    1. Halldor says:

      How could anyone rationally interpret it any other way? Well, agreed, his speech from the podium was pretty generic, but it’s certainly possible to take serious issue with the implication that people who fail to share Barenboim’s cultural and political preferences are educationally deficient. Regrettably, he has form in this area:

      https://van-us.atavist.com/orientalism20

      It’s all the more troubling because one senses it’s well-meant, and probably unwitting. But then, the bar for passing as an intellectual in classical music circles has always been relatively low. The heart may be in the right place (and no-one doubts that Barenboim’s is), but at some point the head has to take some responsibility as well.

  37. Julia Wilson says:

    Norman, everything you say I disagree with. You take reports out of context, put your own dubious spin on them…. Barenboim was talking about education…. also why skirt round that this was an incredible performance of Elgar 2 played with passion by a German orchestra and that was the point actually. Music education and funding if music generally leading to better music education and greater rehearsal times therefore high standard of performance . Proof of pudding ?? He can say what he likes…you do … but I actually agree with him.

  38. Paul Kelly says:

    Re-reading Norman’s editorial, I’m not sure this is really about Barenboim at all. Rather I think it’s a dig at Alan Davey, David Pickard and the BBC who one senses Norman absolutely loathes. Barenboim just happened to be a convenient trigger.

    1. David Nice says:

      May well be so. The Tom Jones attack would suggest as much. Or maybe the titles are just clickbait?

  39. Peter says:

    What a load of horse feathers.

    Nothing in our world is politically neutral. That is democracy.

    To say otherwise is a delusion used for an argument that is unsupportable.

  40. Nick Howson says:

    Barenboim is probably the most considered and courageous musician on the circuit, and his words carry wisdom, authority gained through experience both musically and politically, and his credentials as a unifier of opposites are second to none.

    The Proms not political? Do me a favour. It’s time this profession stepped out of its middle class comfort zone and showed some of the often revolutionary fervour that many of the composers we perform sought to inspire through their music.

    Brexit is a threat to our fragile society and to our art form, and should be challenged publicly and privately in every way available.

    Mr Leberecht, yours is not the monopoly on outspoken comment.

  41. Julia Wilson says:

    Norman, everything you say I disagree with. Barenboim was talking about education…. also why skirt round that this was an incredible performance of Elgar 2 played with passion by a German orchestra and that was the point actually. Music education and funding if music generally leading to better music education and greater rehearsal times therefore high standard of performance . Proof of pudding ?? He can say what he likes, he is a eminent musician and frankly talks a lot more sense than most politicians we have to listen to. Who would you prefer to listen to, Barenboim or Trump? Eminent figures whether it be from Arts, Sciences ( Prof Hawkins for example) are often worth listening to and I though Barenboim got it spot on.

    1. David Nice says:

      Now that I’ve watched it in full, I cry shame on the denigrators here, starting with the absurd labelling ‘Brexit speech’. As Julia Wilson points out, it was about education – and humanism, in relation to European culture. It was a measured and noble speech. A blueprint of common sense.

      And though I’m no fan of the way Barenboim conducts Elgar 2, I’m so proud of the way he promotes these symphonies for what they are – towering giants of the repertoire, fully measuring in international stature against the very different aims of Mahler and Sibelius.

      1. Jaybuyer says:

        David, don’t leave us in mid-air. What are the ‘very different aims of Mahler and Sibelius’?

        1. David Nice says:

          See Sibelius: ‘I said that I admired [the symphony’s] severity of style and the profound logic that created an inner connection between all the motifs … Mahler’s opinion was just the reverse. “No, a symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything.” ‘

  42. Laura says:

    I’m no longer a musician, but I do work for a company that is not headquartered in the EU, work for that business unit, and so required to apply for an annual visa which allows me to work there for a few days every couple of months to keep in touch. This has to be reapplied for annually. Thankfully my job pays for it and has a whole complex system for managing it. However we are finding that we are no longer able to get even temporary permits for less experienced staff.

    This is inherently a political issue, as the cost and process of applying for work permits will fall on a group who on the whole, probably earn less than Netrebko makes in a night each year. It will fall on students who currently can get on a train in Milan and go all the way to London. It will ultimately result in higher costs for people visiting concerts like the proms where European orchestras and performers are suddenly expected to pay 100 per head just to apply. For an orchestra of 80, that’s 8000 plus the cost of administration – at least double. Its likely that both the number of visiting performers will fall, and the cost of non UK performers will rise. This is terrible for performers within the UK who may lose reciprocal rights outside of the UK. It is inherently political and so performers perfectly entitled to comment.


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