Breaking: Iran tells Berlin orchestra not to come

Breaking: Iran tells Berlin orchestra not to come


norman lebrecht

August 27, 2015

Musicians in the Staatskapelle Berlin were told last night that they won’t be going to Teheran any time soon. The orchestra, with its conductor Daniel Barenboim, had been on standby to travel with Chancellor Angela Merkel at a date yet to be announced. But the Iranians have now told the orchestra that the planning time is too short and thy are not welcome in Iran for the time being.

Quote from the letter:

Letzten Freitag erhielten wir nun vom Auswärtigen Amt die Nachricht, dass die Iraner auf Grund der knappen Zeit für die Organisation des Konzerts entschieden haben, den geplanten Konzerttermin (am 7.9.2015) zu verschieben.


Last Friday, we heard from the Foreign Office that the Iranians have decided, as a result of the tight organization time to move the concert date (07.09.2015) to a date (that has not yet been decided).

Daniel Barenboim


  • PDQ.BACH says:

    The perfect diplomatico-bureaucratic escape. Neat and wily.

    Anyone attempting to tackle the Iranians should keep in mind that they have a tradition of statecraft, bureaucracy and diplomacy going back at least 2600 years. Not even the ayatollahs have managed to dumb down all those lessons.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      And other countries don’t have “statecraft, bureaucracy and diplomacy”?

      • PDQ.BACH says:

        Did I say that others didn’t?
        Take a deep breath, read again those three sentences (come on, that can’t be so difficult) and reconsider your question.

        The point is that there aren’t that many countries with an uninterrupted tradition of statecraft going back more than 2600 years.
        It’s easy to underestimate a country like Iran because of its stultifying theocratic regime.
        But the principles of diplomacy and strategy are ancient, and the Iranians are shrewd practitioners of these arts; viz., the uncanny way in which Iran has turned the nuclear negotiation squarely on its head, presenting the mere fact of its willingness to negotiate as a major concession, to be honoured by the West with counter-concessions, which duly followed. In comparable parleys, the Soviets, the Vietnamese, various Arab states all tried this ploy and failed; the Iranians, so far, succeeded.

        A Barenboim concert at this point in time would have been a symbol of thawing: per se, an unimportant event, but one that would have encouraged and legitimised cultural dissent. The regime saw the threat; its diplomacy blew it coldly away with minimal fuss. This is one tough nut.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          Did I say that others didn’t?

          Yes, you did. At first, you only implied that, but in your second post you confirmed that that’s what you meant:

          In comparable parleys, the Soviets, the Vietnamese, various Arab states all tried this ploy and failed; the Iranians, so far, succeeded.

          But I think that’s nonsense anyway. Iran as a culture may be that old, but the people who do the negotiating there aren’t (although some of them do look really, really old). They probably studied their history and learned from it, but then others can do that, too. You did as well, didn’t you? How else would you have gained that knowledge about the age of Iranian culture (although I find that number somewhat randomly chosen, but that’s a different, and probably irrelevant subject)? Are you 2600 years old yourself?

          And of course they had to act as if they were generously making concessions by coming to the negotiation table, in order not to appear weak and risk losing face at home. I don’t think one has to be Iranian or 2600 years old to understand that. But everyone knows that the mere fact that they did come to the table means that they really needed some kind of deal themselves. And that’s a good thing, maybe a chance for a fresh start, or at least some kind of thawing in the relationship between Iran and the West. We can all only profit from that.

          I don’t really know what’s behind the decision to cancel (or “postpone”) this visit of the SB to Iran, and you don’t either, but maybe it’s not all that dramatic. It *was* very short notice in any case. And, as you said yourself, it’s not all that important anyway, although people like us who follow “classical music” news might want to think it is.

          • PDQ.BACH says:

            It is difficult to have a discussion where you continually fail at the basic skill of reading precisely what is written.
            I am explicitly referring to an uninterrupted tradition of statecraft; not, as you misquote me, “the age of the Iranian culture”. The particular historical juncture was the emergence of the Median Empire and its Achaemenid successor. And you don’t need to be 2600 years old to study Ancient History.

            On other issues, our assessments and opinions may differ.

            But your imputing a factual statement I demonstrably did not make is another matter altogether. The first time around, it could have been a misunderstanding; the second time, it’s disingenuous.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            It is difficult to have a discussion where you continually fail at the basic skill of reading precisely what is written.

            It is also difficult to have a “discussion” when you resort to such lame sophomoric rhetoric (just like your equally lame use of the word “disingenious”). Especially when your whole “response” is just offended blabla but when it comes to the actual topic, all you have to say is On other issues, our assessments and opinions may differ.
            That’s not a very constructive and helpful “contribution” either.

            Your whole argument there, “this is a very old country so they know their “statecraft” better than others and they are particularly good at playing tricks” is basically just nonsense, and a slightly more veiled and sophisticated way of saying “we can’t trust these people”. But when it comes to politics, we shouldn’t blindly trust *anybody* anyway.
            But there is also a strong element of “they are somehow different over there, these old oriental tricksters” in your statement which I find somewhat disturbing in its implications.

      • Brian b says:

        I think Obama and Kerry have proved the negative on that sufficiently.

  • Holger H. says:

    I was under the impressions the visit of Barenboim with his orchestra was to be with an international entourage for some kind of official ceremony signing the nuclear arms deal?
    So maybe only that event has been moved and the orchestra visit follows en suite?

  • Michael Schaffer says:

    Norman, uncharacteristically you missed a chance here to say that the last time an orchestra from Berlin was in Teheran was in 1975 when the BP traveled there with the evil Karajan to play for the evil Shah.

  • Burgos says:

    I’ve always wondered why every political statement (or non-statement) Barenboim makes seems to make international headlines.
    He is famous for being a conductor and pianist. Why do we care so much what his political views are about the Middle East? His political views are about as relevant as his favorite baseball team, what restaurants he dines at, and what color underwear he wears. Who really cares? Barenboim is not a political ambassador. And even the idea of musicians being cultural ambassadors is debatable…
    As for his Statskapelle orchestra, I would have to say they were among the most disappointing orchestras I have ever heard. I was surprised by their playing, because I have heard his public statements claiming that this orchestra responds to his most subtle gestures with variations of bow speed, vibrato, color, and phrasing. I heard absolutely none of that and I thought that they sounded like a student orchestra. Does he make these remarks as a way of taking a cheap shot at the Chicago Symphony? Because it’s a complete myth. The Chicago Symphony really is an elite ensemble and one would have to be a musical ignoramus to even compare the two groups.

    • Dave T says:

      While any or every political statement Barenboim or any other artists makes SHOULD be of no interest– they’re no authority of matters non-musical– the fact is that by inviting/dis-inviting him and his band to come on the trip, it makes it so. Do you think that they were (or would have been) hauled along for the musical entertainment? Maybe the butler of the Chancellor of Germany has no political or symbolic role in his travels, but entertainer/artists sure do.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Maybe then you *are* a “musical ignoramus”, Burgos, since, according to yourself, you hear “absolutely none” of the qualities in the playing of the Staatskapelle that not only Barenboim, but many other conductors and listeners praise?

      And I don’t see why praising this orchestra automatically means “taking a cheap shot at the Chicago Symphony” even if Barenboim was once associated with that orchestra. He has been associated with many ensembles over his long career. Their sound and playing style are somewhat different, but then so are those of many, or at least the better orchestras today.
      And that’s a good thing. While the overall level of orchestral playing has risen quite dramatically since, maybe the 70s or so, they now do all sound much more alike than they did a few decades ago. So those stylistic differences that are still audible are something to appreciate, I think.

      BTW, the German word “Kapelle” means orchestra (or musical ensemble in general), so “Staatskapelle orchestra” is a tautology.

  • Don Ciccio says:

    Darn! I just finished my Farsi translation of Kumbaya which Mr. Barenboim was going to offer as an encore!

  • Neil van der Linden says:

    Anyway myaybe it was one step too far to have Barenboim come over. Rouhani and Zarif and in fact Khamenei’s son or brother (yes!) who had contacts via via with Barenboim might have had some problem to defend this against the hardliners.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      But why? As I understand it, Barenboim is not exactly a Netanyahu-style anti-Iran hardliner – on the contrary, he is highly critical of the extreme right in Israel. So why should the Iranians have a “problem” with him?

      • Dave T says:

        Because Iran doesn’t like Israel in any it comes: hard liners, soft liners, ocean liners… it doesn’t’ make any difference. They just want to see it destroyed, lock, stock, and barrel. The nuances of Israeli politics (pro-Netanyahu, Peace Now) make no difference whatsoever. It’s not a matter of ‘style,’ it’s a place on the map.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          That’s total nonsense, and borderline racist in its over-generalization of Iran as if it was a person with one single opinion about everything, not a people of nearly 80 million. The obvious tensions between hardliners and reformers in the government, and the overall rather young but also on average quite well educated population which is tired of these historic grievances which in many cases go back to before most of them were even born, that is what is opening the door to reforms and rapprochement with the West right now.

          But of course, there are people “here” and “there” who would like to keep that door tightly shut and perpetuate the status quo from which only hardliners on both sides benefit. You seem to be one of those, too.

          • Dave T says:

            When tens of thousands of Iranians turn out on the street and chant “Death to Israel”. When huge majorities in polls essentially agree with the sentiment, I get the message. Maybe you should too.

            On the other hand, if you could produce for our readers substantive examples of Iranians, leaders or lay, who support Israel as a nation and wish to tread it normally and for normal relations, please don’t hesitate. The “reformers” of whom you speak do not seek reform in their relations or regard for Israel.

            As for your “racist” remark– how stupid. I won’t say more about that idiotic name calling of yours.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Speaking of a people of nearly 80 million as if they all had the same opinions and ideas and a uniform character *is* at least borderline racist. Pointing that out is not “name calling”, it is *calling someone out*.

            There are at least several *tens of millions* of people in the country in which I live (yes, the good ol’ US of A) and many prominent politicians who constantly talk about “bombing Iran” – how do you think does that look to them “over there”?

            Unfortunately, many people are easily influenced by extremist propaganda, and there are plenty of political opportunists *on both sides* who abuse that. But that doesn’t mean that things can never change.
            Not all that long ago, in Germany, people were out in the streets in large numbers waving the Nazi flag, and what came next was the biggest war in history.
            Yet, after that war, it only took a few gestures of goodwill by the victorious western allies to bring the vast majority of the German population over to their side and convince them that they didn’t all have to be enemies for all eternity.
            Things will probably not move quite as fast in this case, the political and cultural rifts between Iran and the West may be a little deeper, but it shouldn’t take that long either. And we can skip the “huge war in between” step if politicians on both sides move carefully. All it really needs is just enough goodwill on both sides.

  • Holger H. says:

    So many brainwashed people here.
    Iran has a Jewish minority for centuries and is THE islamic country with the most tolerance toward Judaism. They have a representative in the parliament by default.
    Of course the diaspora of Jews from Iran is huge, but that that is mostly due to the prospect of better living conditions in Israel or through there to Europe and the US, and also that Israel was paying each Iranian jew a good amount of money for leaving. It seems Iranians have been getting along with Jews relatively well over the centuries, better than most European Christian nations actually.

  • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    Who would have thought that both the Israeli and Iranian hard line governments see eye to eye in their rejection of Daniel Barenboim….

    • Max Grimm says:

      Well, most of us already knew that many conductors have great success with the uniting of warring factions in unanimous deprecation.

  • PaulD says:

    Maybe the Iranians were afraid he’d ask about their role in the bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Actually, it is probably nothing to worry about.