Monday, June 12, 2006

Daniel Barenboim Plans To Counter Poverty Of Musical Understanding In The Contemporary World By Opening Music Conservatories in Nazareth And Palestine

..."Q. [John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune music critic]
What about music education in general?

A. [Daniel Barenboim, departing music director of the Chicago Symphony] The problem is that it has ceased to be part of the self-understood culture that a human being is supposed to have. The fact remains that a great majority of the intellectuals in this world are totally oblivious to the existence of music. Some of them enjoy the sounds they hear at concerts or when they listen to records at home. But it's not part of their intellectual worldview. This is a worldwide sickness. And I have to say the problem is more acute in America.

Q. Are you at all hopeful that there is even a faint chance of improving this sorry situation, given the now decades-long absence of public school music education already has resulted in a couple of generations of musically illiterate citizens?

A. Former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer had a wonderful sentence in a recent article in the German magazine Der Spiegel. Pessimists, he said, very often are proved in the end to be nothing more or less than bad-tempered realists. [laughs]. I'm not that kind of person. I don't want to prophesize in any way -- it's not in my nature. But I know one thing: That unless we do something radical, and early on, about the place that we want music to have in society, then we will be in trouble.

This is why we opened what we call a "music kindergarten" two years ago in the West Bank town of Ramallah, and one in Berlin last September. And we achieved, to my mind, really wonderful results. It was very small, only 20 children. It's not designed to change the face of the society, nor is it music education -- it is education through music. For instance, they learn discipline through musical rhythm. It's about making children realize that music is not something outside of them but something that can penetrate them and that they can penetrate.

Q. Tell us about the various other projects that will keep you busy once you depart Chicago. Will you continue directing the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, the youth orchestra of Israelis and Arabs you founded with Edward W. Said in 1999, that is striking blows for Middle East brotherhood through music?

A. The West-Eastern Divan is not a project for peace. It is a fight against ignorance. It is an orchestra where it is possible for Israelis and Arabs to sit at the same music stand and listen to each other's narrative. I think it will go on as long as it has a chance to survive, and that young people from all these countries [can] take part. As long as this [political] state of affairs continues with the Israeli government and the Palestinian people, I think we will continue. I have never thought of stopping my involvement.

With the Divan orchestra I will conduct the Beethoven Ninth Symphony in December at the United Nations in a farewell concert for Secretary-General Kofi Annan. We also will give a concert in Carnegie Hall. I would love to bring the orchestra back to Chicago, where we last played in 2001. We will see.

Q. What musical results will result from your establishing ties between Berlin's Staatsoper unter den Linden opera house and Milan's La Scala, which recently named you its unofficial principal guest conductor?

A. I will have no title at Scala because I want not the slightest thing to do with administration. In August I will have been [performing] onstage for 56 years; I think I've earned the right to make music and not bother with other things. I will do some educational projects in Milan similar to Berlin's. At the same time I'm still very committed to the Staatskapelle and Staatsoper in Berlin. We will have a whole program of co-productions between the Staatsoper and La Scala, continuing to a new Wagner "Ring" cycle in 2011. I think this will be a very positive [alliance].

Q. How do you want to spend the rest of your life -- living as you have lived, in the fullness of music?

A. First of all, I hope to live a long time and in very good health. I don't know who it was who said we spend so much of our lives spending our health in order to attain wealth, and then in our old age, spending the wealth in order to get our health back. I don't want to be one of those people! [laughs]

My commitment to music education in Palestine [and elsewhere] is a fascinating project, and I need to spend more time on that -- along with practicing the piano. Our foundation underwrites an entire music-education program in Palestine. In September we hope to open a music conservatory in Nazareth, also. This comes out of my very strong conviction, first of all, that music means education; secondly, that 85 percent of the Palestinian population in the occupied territories is under 33 years old -- 85 percent! That means the only investment worth making is in education."

John von Rhein "THE BARENBOIM YEARS 1991-2006: Firm, unsentimental Barenboim" Chicago Tribune June 11, 2006


Nazareth and Palestine will have music conservatories and music education programs under the founding leadership of Daniel Barenboim. Nazareth will have a music conservatory before Washington, D.C. has one.

Photo credit: Atlas Tours. With thanks.


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