Barenboim: I prefer Angela Merkel to British politicians

Barenboim: I prefer Angela Merkel to British politicians


norman lebrecht

December 09, 2016

At the opening of the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin yesterday:

‘I lived for 15 years in London where none of the politicians had much interest in the musical life. In Germany, Mrs Merkel … and her finance minister [Wolfgang Schäuble], and other top politicians, regularly come to classical concerts. And we are grateful that they clearly saw this academy as fitting in with their wider idea of what culture means.’

Full report from Kate Connolly in the Guardian here.

Many in the British arts community would share his voting preference.

That said, his statement is something of an exaggeration. Barenboim lived in London in the 1970s when Edward Heath, a habitual concertgoer, was prime minister and his lawyer Lord Goodman was chair of the Arts Council. The arts never had it so good.


  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    Ted Heath also tried his hand at conducting. He wasn’t any good, but that’s not the point.

    • Andrew Condon says:

      Bit harsh to say he wasn’t any good. At the risk of being the only one on this site with a complimentary word for Sir Edward, his performance of Cockaigne with the LSO in 1971 was widely praised at the time (including by none other than the late, great Edward Greenfield).

      • Theodore McGuiver says:

        You’re right, it was a bit harsh. Heath was an accomplished organist and I suppose I was comparing his conducting to his skills at the console. I liked Ted, he was one of those emblematic PMs of my youth.

  • Brian Donohue says:

    I guess musicians need to have short memories, for they make so many mistakes.

  • Halldor says:

    You don’t have to put Ted Heath’s conducting on a level with Furtwangler’s to see that he was unquestionably intensely interested in and involved with classical music, and was not without skill (you don’t walk into an Oxford organ scholarship without some aptitude). On the other side of the political spectrum, Denis Healey was an enthusiastic pianist, Shirley Williams was knowledgeable about opera and sang herself, Roy Jenkins supported Scottish Opera keenly and was friends with Sir Alexander Gibson, etc, etc.

    Barenboim’s comments are bizarre for the 1970s, and they’re bizarre now (the last government included at least two passionate opera-goers). Still, Brit-bashing is always a cheap win in the classical world – “die land ohne musik”…yawn. Ted Heath’s an easy target, but we await Mrs Merkel’s orchestral recordings with interest.

  • Ellingtonia says:

    So to gain any credibility as a politician it is imperative that they go to classical music concerts and opera…..why? I don’t give a toss what musical preferences my MP has, but what I do care about is his effectiveness in representing me in Parliament and arguing the case for local issues e.g. saving A&E at Huddersfield Infirmary. If he enjoys a little jaunt to Leeds to see Opera North or a trip across the border to see the Halle, then good for him. Equally, should he also attend a U2 or Rolling Stones concert then it simply indicates that he has a broad musical taste.
    Get off your snotty “high horses” about the merits of classical music as against other genres (cue Mr B having apoplexy!)

  • Holly Golightly says:

    Well, Barenboim old son – Putin loves his concerts in Russia too. One of his mates is Gergiev. I guess this makes him a better politician than anyone in dull old Britain.

  • Daniel F. says:

    Or you could live in the United States where the most recent President demonstrated a nearly in-your-face, certainly conspicuous lack of interest in classical music. The current President-elect cannot do worse but will likely not do better.

    • Peter says:

      And how would make that Obama make any different than his predecessors for several decades, you little hate monger?
      IIRC the last POTUS who was genuinely interested in classical music was JFK.
      Nixon played a decent piano, but more for the wild west saloon kind of music.

  • Mark says:

    Obama and his ugly wife were only interested in great musicians and musical minds like JayZ, Beyonce, and Diddy Combs. Obama couldn’t even pronounce Argerich’s name at the Kennedy Center Honors this years and most like had never even heard of her previously.
    As to the Trumpster, I’ve never seen or heard his name mentioned in any way in connection with music or any genre.
    As to the original subject, Barenboim, he would certainly not be supportive of any country or politician he deems not sufficiently favorable to Arab/Muslim causes.

    • Peter says:

      Racist and despicable comments, lowest possible. surprisingly NL allows *that* kind of hate speech on his blog.

      • Theodore McGuiver says:

        What’s racist about calling someone ugly?

        • Peter says:

          The context of that post, obviously.

          • Holly Golightly says:

            Only in the eye of the beholder who already sees lights flashing “victim”. Sadly for you. I guess the writer is bored silly after 8 years of lecturing from Obama.

            I agree with the comments about the Obama family’s hideous musical tastes. In fact, I’d hesitate to call them “musical”. Eeeew.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The Divan Orchestra is a symbol for society, showing that however players listen to each other and have equal rights unrelated to ethnic/cultural background, there should be one leader with authority to hold the thing together. So, the symbol is not quite as appropriate as one would wish. Politicians loving orchestral concerts may be either enamored with the music, or with the sight of ‘real leadership’ which is no longer possible in modern democracies. Politicians who are fond of Wagner operas, are equally suspect: do they love the exclusion policies of the Grail community in Parsifal, the goofy antics of Siegfried, the scheming of Wotan and Hagen, or the burning of Walhalla, the penitence of Kundry, the increasing wisdom of the Stupid Fool, or Elsa’s justified curiosity? We know that Hitler loved Götterdämmerung so much that he staged it for real.

  • George Xavier says:

    You are judging quite harshly our presidents! They preside over a union where some states are larger and wealthier than many European countries. We had a president who commanded the greatest military operation in history and a president who united a bitterly divided country They preside over the greatest, successful human enterprise ever.
    Unlike the monarchical presidents of the Great Nation, cultivated as they pretended to be, (fathering children out of wedlock and keeping maitresses in gilded residences on the back of the tax payer is part of the “culture”) or the Wagner lover Kanzler, our presidents may pursue some more pedestrian interests. Some of them had a remarkable intellect and were well read (I mean read the books not the list!). Other had a keen interest and appreciation of classical music.

    Alas, by no means all: the Columbia/Harvard educated B. Obama, arguably the worst president in recent history whose favorite soprano is Miss Beyoncee, had considerable trouble spelling Argerich (O sh..t, there is no teleprompter!)
    To his credit, Jimmy Carter, his ex aequo fellow, having also a burgeoning violinist in the family, invited Horowitz to the White House and likely enjoyed it.
    Earlier, the Camelot beau had Casals as guest at the W.H. and according to eyewitnesses, music being not his his prefered pursuit, he sat quite restless during the performance (not easy to listen to a Bach partita with an ongoing STD!).