Beethoven - Symphony No. 7 (Proms 2012)
West-Eastern Divan Orchestra at 2012 BBC Proms with Barenboim
Politics in classical music is not new. Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Shostakovich, and countless other composers were politically active and, at times, censored. Almost every mid-20th-century conductor, singer, and instrumental soloist was politicized by World War II. Now it's the Middle East's turn.
Argentinian-Israeli Daniel Barenboim is one of the most respected conductors of classical music in the world, depending on who you talk to. The Guardian is reporting that Barenboim has plans to conduct a concert in Tehran and Israel isn’t happy about it.
In 1999, Barenboim co-founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra with Palestinian-American academic Edward Said. It is a youth orchestra composed of musicians from Israel, Palestine, Egypt and other Arab countries, including Iran. The orchestra exists to promote understanding.
The relationship between Israel and Barenboim has been strained for more than a decade. Barenboim was the first to conduct the music of Wagner in the state of Israel. There has been an informal ban on Wagner’s music in Israel because it was used by the Nazis and because of Wagner’s own anti-Semitic writings.
Barenboim played Wagner as an encore in a 2001 concert after asking the audience if they wanted to hear Wagner. A 30-minute debate ensued, and some patrons left the concert angry after calling Barenboim a fascist. The majority of the audience stayed and gave Barenboim a standing ovation.
Since that time Barenboim has been critical of the conservative Israeli government and has been supportive of the human rights of Palestinians and has advocated for the two-state solution. Now he is taking a German orchestra to Iran to perform.
Who knows what Israel’s response to the upcoming Tehran concert would have been if this had been any other conductor or an orchestra from any other country. As it is, Israel’s foreign minister is threatening to write a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and request that she prevent the concert from happening.
Barenboim is undeterred but has postponed the date of the concert in question.