Where Barenboim gets it wrong

Daniel Barenboim conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra earlier this month. At no point did he mention the plight of Native Americans who were driven out by European settlers.

He performs often in Argentina, where he was born. Again, no mention of the original people of Latin America who were massacred by settlers.

But in Australia this week, he milked unearned applause for a comment on the indigenous inhabitants of that continent, and at every other opportunity he raises sympathy for the plight of the Palestinian Arabs.

Some inconsistency, perhaps?

Barenboim’s concern for the Middle East is commendable. He grew up in Israel and, years later, formed a symbiotic friendship with the Jerusalem-born academic Edward Said. He used to keep a residence in Jerusalem, where his wife Elena Bashkirova runs a chamber music festival. Barenboim has every right to take a position on a place where he belongs, regardless of whether one agrees with him or not.

But Australia? He hasn’t been there for 60 years and his comment has no context. It’s a form of the worst kind of virtue signalling – look at me, I’m a really nice person, won’t you join me on the nice side?  If Daniel, or anyone else, had the courage to stand up at Carnegie Hall and denounce what Europeans did to America’s indigenous population, he might be applauded for the courage of his convictions.

More likely, he’d be run out of town and never let back into the United States.

So he won’t do that. Nor will anyone else. He’ll just keep scoring cheap points where he can.

And that’s wrong.

He’s a musician. He should let the music speak.


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  • “He’s a musician. He should let the music speak.” Exactly!
    Some artists don’t understand that when they are put in the middle of the stage they are there to do a musical job. Using that position for personal agendas – fair or unfair, I don’t care – is just wrong.

    • Exactly what I said to Pablo Casals, another mouthy old rascal. Get back to Spain and spout your stuff there, I said. And leave Nazi Germany alone — none of your business, I said. And how come you don’t say anything about Aussie Aboriginal people, U.S. Natives, et al.? I gave Beethoven hell for dedicating his Symphony No. 3 to Napoleon, and then I gave him hell for deleting the damn dedication. As Norman says, no consistency in these people. All this crap has been going on far to long!

  • If you’ll shut up for a while, you’ll notice that music can not speak anymore, since music is extinct, and you have a major part in that.

  • You are right, Mr. Lebrecht.
    Barenboim never has had the humility not to lecture people and not be sanctimonious and not be preachy.
    He is such an insufferable narcissist every time he speaks about matters other than music. Which is also what Ernest Newman has said about Richard Wagner, by the way.

  • The editorial seems a bit muddled. He is applauded for speaking up for the Palestinians, denounced for not speaking up in America, and then criticised for speaking up in Australia. Then the final point is ‘He’s a musician, he should let the music speak’. Taken as a whole, it’s not clear whether the editorial thinks he should be allowed to speak or not. I understand the point about Barenboim’s perceived lack of consistency, but am unclear as to whether the editor thinks he should speak more, or less.

  • Just in case Mr. Barenboim is planning on coming to Portugal soon; Our native people were the Lusitanians. They were VERY unfairly treated by the Romans starting around 155 B.C.

      • My comment was about Mr. Barenboim and it is sympathetic to your views.
        Your reply, however, seems to me to indicate that your article may not actually be about Barenboim at all.
        I apologise for having misunderstood. I am new to SlippedDisk.

      • Not to mention the Muslims in 1497, also forced to convert or be expelled. We mustn’t be selective and inconsistent re such matters, must we now.

  • In modern Australia a ‘Welcome to country” ceremony is often carried out at major events to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land, ancestors and elders.

    Maybe someone retroactively told Barenboim.

  • Absolutely spot on! One more thing that Mr. Banremboim will certainly not do is do a concert in the Middle East for hundreds of thousands of Euros and denounce the persecution and genocide of his fellow Jews in the Middle East at the hands of Muslims. Nor will he do a concert in Turkey and denounce the Armenian genocide.

    He is a typical “Social Justice Warrior”: they take cheap shots at easy targets but never have the courage to confront the greatest and most powerful culprits.

    • Agree.
      It’s easy to cunduct in Ramalah, he will not get any rocket over his head over there.
      Let him show some guts and give a concert in Sderot. ….

  • Logically, the descendants of the settlers should jump off a high building to atone for these ancient grievances. And the Natives should be promoted to the top of the intersectionality hierarchy above the black muslim LGBT people.

    • “Ancient grievances”?? Just a leeetle research, a morsel of education, and you might learn that the “Stolen Generations” policy of forcibly removing Aboriginal children from their families and trying to incorporate them in Caucasian culture, the purpose being to destroy Aboriginal culture and in time the Aboriginal people, continued into the 1970s. This was perpetrated by Federal and State governments and by church missions. Far from ancient, some of the people who inflicted this are still with us. All the horrors suffered by the Aborigines (in the 19thc. they were hunted just as were kangaroos) have done irreversible damage, and you ought to know that Australians in general are extremely aware of this and sensitive to it. If you visit, be careful what you say and maybe stick to the Outback. By the by, Aborigines are ‘black’, so they can hardly be promoted above black people. Or did you mean people who are “black muslim LGBT” all in one?

      • TL is making the usual absurd leap from “acknowledging injustices of the past” to “holding present-day beneficiaries of those injustices personally responsible, as if they had committed the crimes themselves.”

        It’s quite familiar since we see it every time someone wants to offer help to any group that has had a disadvantage in the past: a workshop for women conductors becomes a war on male conductors; an initiative to welcome black musicians into classical music (in the US at least) becomes a plant to take opportunity away from white musicians; and so on.

        Of course it has happened in fields outside of music as well. Women who wanted to work at “real” jobs (anything besides secretary/ schoolteacher/ nurse) in the 1950’s — and later — were told they were taking jobs away from men who actually needed them.

        People espousing these views today don’t seem to realize how unoriginal they are.

  • Yep, you never know nowadays, what to say, because there always be some interpretation/ So it would be great to have some instruction, some booklet with two columns at each page labelled ‘rigth’ and ‘wrong’. Or still one more, ‘risky’. That much for freedom of speech

  • It’s a cheap narcissistic trick by Barenboim. What about a homage to Neanderthal man who was replaced by the modern human ?

    • I don’t know if being a technologically advanced Neanderthal with (mostly) better hygiene modern human warrants homage?

    • Except Neanderthals and Modern humans interbred at the margin: most modern humans have some Neanderthal genes.

  • Music is enlivened by politics. Rostropovich, Montero, Barenboim, Gergiev, Thielemann, Shostakovich, Britten, etc. Classical music thrives when it contextualizes itself in the world.

    I agree that Barenboim is a musician and should speak through music.
    I admit that Norman gets what he wants…. many reaction about a simple speech well received by the audience.
    What Norman should avoid is to talk about massacred original people by settlers putting in the same basket Argentina with Latin America.
    Argentina geographically is located in Latin America but their stories are different.

  • Perhaps Norman should have a glance to Herbert Eugene Bolton (1870-1953) an American historian, specialized in the Hispano-American history of North America, who lets for the posterity this sentence: >>In the English colonies the only good Indians were dead Indians. In the Spanish colonies it was thought that it was worth training the natives for this life, as well as for the next one. <<

  • Incoherence, megalomania, narcissism, or just a post card from Aunt Ageing? DB should take a break from such tiresome gambits for a while.

  • The real danger to have concert in Sderot ‘ll come from Jewish residents that my throw anything on “renegate” DB, not from Gaza fighters of Israel blockade and occupation.

  • It’s a feeble attempt on the part of DB to make up for the fact that musically speaking, he is fading into irrelevance. The sooner the better.

  • There is absolutely NOTHING commendable about his “speaking up for Palestinians,” and shame on you for making such an egregious political statement. Why don’t you do the same for indigenous people, which the Palestinians are not, by the way. Most of them arrived during Arafat’s rule, and the others in the Middle Ages under the Turks. If Barenboim was a better artist, he wouldn’t need to resort to politics to get press.

    • 99% of the Jews arrived after 1900 too. Now what? The population of Jews in Palestine around 1900 was about 50.000…
      The Palestinians are at least as “indigenous” as the Jews. You are on a slippery slope. Get your history right at least.

  • Finally someone calls him out! Thank you, Norman. I feel like the only person with a functioning brain here in Australia. Our own ABC Classic FM posted the audio of that speech on Facebook and described it as a “hard hitting observation about reconciliation”, and the on-air presenters have re-posted and re-tweeted it like it was the most erudite piece of wisdom they’d ever heard. But no one in the media or any of his fawning fans seem to be asking, “what did he actually mean?”. Were there any facts presented? Did he offer any solutions? Does he have any direct experience of the issues? Nope. As you rightly said, it was merely a shallow virtue signal, and has achieved absolutely nothing. So, what’s to applaud?

  • I read Barenboim’s statement somewhat differently. He was saying that when he last performed in Australia (60 years ago – wow, never since?) nobody was talking about what Australia had done to its indigenous people (and as one commenter noted, some of the country’s more unsavor y policies carried into the 1970s). And now they do, and he was congratulating them for making efforts to come to terms with a dark part of their past.

    I don’t know if/when Barenboim has performed in Turkey; if so he wouldn’t really have anything to commend them for, since they continue to deny the Armenian genocide. Maybe he stays away for that reason.

    • I agree. I am not sure why anybody outside of Australia should be concerned about his comments. I am only a casual fan of classical music but attended the final performance at the Opera House which I thought was fantastic. He is to be congratulated not only on his contribution to the arts but his courage in speaking up on topics of social significance. Those criticising him seem to have their own agenda.

  • If anyone deserves a Nobel Peace prize it is Daniel Barenboim. I have thought so for years, and I still think so. The most moving concert experience of my life was witnessing a performance of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. I wept when, at the end of the performance, the orchestra’s musicians rose and embraced each other. My God, if only the politicians could inspire such feelings.

  • If everybody only did what he is supposed to do, then I would agree that musicians should stick to making music only.
    But as long as there are warmongering, anti-human, psychopathic, power driven individuals out there who have the objective of subjugating others and act as toxic parasites toward the whole of humanity, until then I urge all musicians – including Daniel Barenboim – to speak up loudly and clearly as much as they possibly can.

  • Barenboim always seizes an opportunity to put himself forward.
    I always think he should stick to music and avoid political-human-climate analysis of some sort or other.

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