Saturday, May 06, 2006

Daniel Barenboim's Dream

I watched a special today on BBC World on the great classical pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim. It was an inspiration.

Daniel Barenboim: The Power of Music

Saturday 6th May at 1230 GMT & 1930 GMT and on Sunday 7th May at 0730 & 1730 GMT.

BBC arts correspondent Razia Iqbal reports on her travels with the world famous Israeli conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim. Barenboim who considers music "an international language" that can cross barriers, visits Jerusalem and Ramallah, where he talks about the role of music in society and politics.

He is not only great because of his status as a muscian but as a pro-Palestinian Jew who is not a Zionist. His personal efforts to create a harmonious community co-exsitance between Jews and Palestinians in Israel has created a musical orchestra that belies the hostility between these competing States.

Anyone who has heard his extraordinary West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, an ensemble made up of Arab and Israeli musicians, cannot fail to be moved.

Here is peaceful collaboration in action; young people from communities which, though apparently hopelessly divided, have come together to make music and, in the process, understand more about each other and each other's cultures.

'No matter how great an individual you are, music teaches you that creativity only works in groups,' says Barenboim, 'and the expression of the group is very often larger than the sum of the parts.' Barenboim's harmonious message goes beyond classical music

Ah yes cooperation, collectivism, all that stuff the right wing likes to denounce. But that reality shows is the only way we function as social beings. And the only way we will ever overcome hatred, prejudice and war. The individual as social being, as the sum of all their social parts, reflected in us. In our freedom. And freedom for Barenboim is essential. It is the source of his dream.

Cooperation and collective endeavour to dare to believe in a differnt Palestine and Israel. One that reflected his and his close friend, Palestinian academic Edward Said, common understanding. That only through dialouge, in this case music reflecting ideas, can there be understanding and peace.

Also a highlight of Voices Forward, the recent film fest that aimed to promote Israeli and Palestinian dialogue -- conductor Daniel Barenboim and the late writer Edward Said create the Middle East's most unique peace initiative: An orchestra made up of young Arab, Palestinian and Jewish players. TORONTO JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL Globe and Mail, Canada - 5 May 2006
Barenboims Dream is not his alone but one he shared with Said and that is shared by those of us who oppose the current State of affairs in Israel and Palestine.

I Have a Dream

Only twenty-four hours. To change the world you must stick to this timetable. In my dream, I am Prime Minister of Israel. My baton conducts a magnificent new symphony- a Treaty celebrating the harmonious co-existence of Israel and Palestine. In this work I will accomplish what has been impossible until now - the equal rights of these two peoples in the Middle East. The theme of the overture has Jerusalem as the common capital city. This Holy Town should immediately become a shared home for Christians, Muslims and Jews. For me, Jerusalem is a city that still resonates with a history from beyond the ancient civilizations of Rome and Athens.

It is Thursday morning, eight am. A sunny sky, the air mild. It's a pleasant autumn day that has an air about it of history in the making. The philosopher Baruch Spinoza knocks at the door of my residence, diagonally across from the wall of prayers. Though he has been dead for 300 years I have selected him as my advisor. He has brought my favorite food, hummus. There is also fresh pressed orange juice and strong coffee.

Just as we finish strengthening ourselves the phone rings. It is my friend Edward Said. In real life he is Professor of Literature at Columbia University, but in my dream he has been selected by the Palestinians to sign the peace treaty. 'Hey', I say to him, 'where are you? We want to make peace today, and you're going to be late?' When he finally turns up, all three of us know that there will be no turning back. To start with we decide that the Peace-treaty will be enacted from the 15th of May: because on this day fifty-one years ago both our peoples were at war. For the Jews it was the War of Independence, for the Palestinians it was the 'Alnakbah' - ' the Catastrophe.' From tomorrow this anniversary of war will only be known as the 'Day of Peace'.

Three conditions must be met, or the Treaty will not be worth the paper it is written on. Firstly, both nations are obligated to work together. This cooperation will be so tight that not only our economic futures, but also our cultural and scientific futures, will be interwoven. This ensures that Palestine and Israel will be as close-knit as a family. It also implies solidarity. For example, what is to be done with the money European banks stole from the Jews during the Fascist era? My dream is, if there are no survivors to whom to give the money, then Israel should spend the millions of dollars on Palestine refugees.

Secondly, I am in favour of arming both nations. Israel must remain vigilant against the Arab world – but so should Palestine, (at least for her own peace of mind). It will be very difficult for the ultra-religious Jews to accept this. I'll take options in my treaty to separate Church and State – like in the rest of the Western world. I would do everything for the religious and for the study of religion. After all, Judaism is almost a science, and the Talmud is much more than just a text we declaim. But what will I do about the spectre of radical religious groups…?

Of course this runs counter to the State ideology of Israel, Zionism will hold no cant with discourse when it can run around screaming Anti-Semitism at it's critics. And heaven forbid you be a Jew who castigates the State for being less than free and democratic. Let alone culturally open.

DANIEL Barenboim is a Jewish conductor who attracts lightning, most recently when an Israeli minister called him "a real Jew-hater, a real anti-Semite". He has been accused of worse and it makes him angry. But right now he has another bee in his bonnet.

"I am very unhappy, and have been for a long time, about the place of music in society," he says. It makes him so exasperated that he has devoted a series of broadcast talks, commissioned by the BBC for its Reith Lectures (the equivalent of the Boyer Lectures), on the subject. He began pianissimo in London early last month and built his theme during the ensuing weeks in Chicago, Berlin, Ramallah and finally Jerusalem.

After breaking an Israeli cultural taboo by giving a performance in Jerusalem of Richard Wagner, whose music sometimes accompanied Jews to the Nazi gas chambers, he was accused of cultural rape.

"Someone had to explain to me the meaning of that expression," he says wryly. While acknowledging Wagner was a virulent anti-Semite, Barenboim contends that he was not responsible for Auschwitz.

Last summer, his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra of young Israeli and Arab musicians set alight the Proms in London before playing in Ramallah, the Palestinian town under virtual occupation in the West Bank.

He feels less at ease in Israel, where he lived briefly as a child, than in Germany, where he runs the Berlin State Opera and is a champion of German music. He is also completing his few months as musical director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

So what is his beef about music's place in society? "My main grievance is that music is not any more part of the general culture," he replies. "When you go to kindergarten and school, you don't come into contact with classical music. No one seems to think it's as important to know your Beethoven as your Shakespeare or Goethe." Music to mend a broken world

Daniel Barenboim - The Paradox of the Peacemaker

By Norman Lebrecht / November 6, 2002

There is no bigger name or more complex paradox on the modern concert platform than the Argentine-born Israeli pianist-turned-conductor and peace campaigner, Daniel Barenboim.

Publicly, Barenboim is a paragon of liberal enlightenment. He has brought together an orchestra of young Israelis and Palestinians in Weimar, beneath the shadow of the Buchenwald death camp, and bravely given recitals in the insurrectionist West Bank towns of Ramallah and Bir Zeit. He has just brought out in America a book of conversations with the New York-based Palestinian academic Edward Said, whom he describes as 'my most intimate friend'.

In Jerusalem he declared that prime minister Ariel Sharon would be unwelcome at his concerts. The Israeli right clamoured for his arrest over curfew violations and hecklers in a restaurant called him 'traitor' (his wife, Elena, loyally pelted them with salad vegetables). But when the Madrid government awarded him Spanish citizenship last month, Barenboim insisted that he would continue to travel the world on his restrictive Israeli passport.

In Germany, where he heads the Berlin state opera, he is a symbol of anti-racism. In the US, as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he successfully premiered a memorial symphony for Aids victims and a celebration of Afro-American creativity.

Barenboim's own web page testifies to his enlightenment politics, influenced as they are by Spinoza another Jew who was hated by the Jewish establishment of his day.

What is interesting is that I have been reading Toni Negri's study of Spinoza in light of Marx. And Spinoza was one of the most important early philosophers to the young Hegelians, as Marx and Engels point out in the Holy Family. He remains one of the most over looked and under rated of philosophers by those in academia even today.

And it could well be because of an inherent anti-semitism that underscores the dismissal of his work on Freedom. He was after all an athiest, and a defender of athiesm while it was still a hanging offense in England. While a materialist philosopher, he also embraced a metaphysics that undercuts the empiricism of the later English and German philosophers.

That metaphysics, which Negri tackles, is one of Freedom. And it is just this appeal to Freedom that Barnenboim uses as the basis of his critique of Zionism and it's State in Istrael.

The Purpose Of The State Is Freedom

Daniel Barenboim on the relevance of Spinoza's Ethics to the conflict in the Middle East - and music

I read Spinoza's Ethics for the first time when I was 13 years old. Of course we studied the Bible at school - which for me is the ultimate philosophical work. However, reading Spinoza opened up a new dimension for me. I am still dedicated to it. Spinoza's simple principle 'man thinks' has become an existential mindset for me. My copy of Ethics has become dog-eared and torn. For years I took it with me on my travels and in hotel rooms or intervals in concerts I became absorbed by many of the principles.

Spinoza's Ethics is the best training ground for the intellect, because Spinoza like no other philosopher teaches us the radical freedom of thought. Only an individual who reflects on all consequences in life is able to find a form of happiness. This awareness has become a kind of pre-Freudian self-analysis for me. Spinoza helps me to see myself objectively. This makes life bearable even in experiencing suffering; and with the teachings from the Ethics the world is perceived as manageable.

The great Voltaire once accused Spinoza of 'abusing metaphysics'. Is not the uncompromising nature of metaphysics more important today than ever? Has not liberated thinking become the most valued freedom at a time when political systems, social constraints, moral codes and political correctness often control our thinking?

Spinoza would not tolerate restrictions, imposed by any political or religious system or by any moral attitude. He struggled for the ideal of free thought. Hardly any other philosopher made so many enemies. He was labelled 'a troublemaking Jew', banned from the synagogue and from the academic establishment. Even his pupils would acknowledge him in private. And when Karl Ludwig asked the impoverished lonely philosopher to lecture at the University of Heidelberg, he turned him down. Spinoza could not guarantee that his thinking would not threaten 'widely accepted religious concepts'. The philosopher in him preferred the quiet retiring life to a bourgeois career.

Spinoza had no particular interest in music. Nonetheless, his logic was influenced by his approach to music. My father, who studied philosophy, was the first to introduce me to Spinoza. He advised me to look at scores philosophically and rationally. Spinoza's principle that reason and emotion cannot be separated, became for me a primary approach to music. I believe that one can approach a concept and a piece of music only if the logical structure can be established simultaneously with the emotional content.

I think back to the last discussion I had with the great conductor Otto Klemperer. We talked about Spinoza and he said "Spinoza's Ethics is the most important book ever written". Klemperer was, as we know, Jewish. At the age of 22 he converted to Christianity because he believed that only as a Christian could he conduct Bach's St Matthew Passion. Many years later, after the War, when Klemperer had already reached old age, he converted back to Judaism. And the reason he gave was Spinoza's Ethics. Perhaps the most important Jewish philosophy. Questions about Jewish ethics and morals and "What is being Jewish?" were long identified as being a minority. The traditional thinking and perceived identity of the Jewish people in its 2,000 year history was as a minority. Historically the Jews were integrated into social and cultural life but tragically persecuted under the Spanish Inquisition and the tyranny of Adolf Hitler. What is special about Spinoza's philosophy is that, despite persecution, abuse and alienation, his thinking was never based on the premise of Jews being a minority. That is precisely why his philosophy is so contemporary, now that the Jewish people have their own state, i.e. are no longer a minority. Spinoza's Ethics remains a potent formula for creating intellectual and moral unity among the Jews.

When in 1948 the Jews achieved statehood, the minority became a nation. This development was at the core of a profound change of identity. However, only 19 years later, the Jews in Israel had to meet a new challenge: the former minority suddenly found it had control over another minority, the Palestinians. This second transition has not yet been achieved. I would go so far as to say that it has not yet actually started. Even today, many Jews in Israel are still not real patriots, concerned with the good fortune of all inhabitants of Israel; they have taken on naïve nationalism. Spinoza once stated 'the purpose of the State is in true freedom'. I wonder how far Israel has progressed with the State on the one hand and with freedom on the other. Spinoza speaks of the equality of mankind - the idea of the ruler and the ruled are foreign to him. Israeli democracy has not yet solved the problem of a state where minorities are suppressed yet freedom for all is the key goal. We are still living in a two-class democracy.

I am convinced that the Jews in Israel must come to a conclusion about their position before the conflict in the Middle East can be resolved. Jewish humour demonstrates that this is not yet the case. The humour of a minority demands courage. A Jew who throws a piece of stale bread before the feet of a Gestapo officer in the Warsaw Ghetto and says "that's good enough for a non-Jew!" is displaying courage. A Jew who throws a piece of stale bread before the feet of a Palestinian and uses the same words, "that's good enough for a non-Jew" in Ramallah, demonstrates only primitive inhumanity.

In the Fifties, Spinoza's spirit was evident in Jerusalem - the city was the centre for Jewish intellectuals. Martin Buber and Max Brod taught there. I was living in Tel Aviv at the time. We were more practical - we built up the land, with hope and enthusiasm and created material value. The Hebrew University in Jerusalem provided the intellectual core of our lives. Now secular Jewry has left Jerusalem and the Orthodox Jews determine the spiritual climate; it is the reestablishment of the Spinoza philosophy in Jerusalem which is essential if progress is to be achieved in the conflict in the Middle East.

Spinoza suffered two experiences which are strongly evident today. Although a Jew, he was excluded from the Jewish community; he also became a victim of anti-semitism. A recent survey in Germany exposed the reality that a majority of Germans believe that the Jews were the greatest risk to world peace. Here a disturbing confusion has arisen: criticism of the State of Israel and anti-semitism. The one has become a reason for the other. There is every reason for criticism of the Israeli government -I have expressed it vehemently and often myself. To use this as a reason to fire anti-semitism is fatal.

Anti-semitism has no historical, political and certainly no philosophical origins. Anti-semitism is a disease. It is significant that Spinoza's ideas had an influence on what is regarded as typical German thinking today - on Feuerbach, Wagner and Nietzsche. How could Richard Wagner become an anti-semite while influenced by Spinoza? Anti-semitism definitely formed part of the profile of a German nationalist in the nineteenth century. Why did Wagner pursue this idea with such fervour? He could not draw these ideas from his spiritual father, the heir to Spinoza, Feuerbach. Wagner's anti-semitism, like any form of Jew-hating, had an irrational basis. He was too similar to his arch-enemies, the Jews Meyerbeer and Heinrich Heine. In the desire to belong to the chosen people, we have the dangerous separation of logic and private motives. Anti-semitism has no philosophical origins. It is a disease which we are not in any way adequately addressing.

A reading of Spinoza's Ethics makes this perfectly clear. It is as relevant today as ever. On the one hand it could be an opportunity for revelation to the reader - to logic and free thinking. On the other, it offers a philosophy for our laws of co-existence. With Spinoza's Ethics Israel could develop as a truly democratic state in which every part of the community defines its ethical values and the ultimate purpose of humanity.

Finally another Jew the marxist musicologist Sidney Finkelstein who promoted not only classical music but Afro-American music, Jazz, before it was popular, in his book How Music Expresses Ideas; says about the metaphysics of freedom

the ideas which music embodies are not the ideas which may be found in a scientific tract, but commentaries on a society showing what it means to live in it. They embrace developments in sensitivity, in the human's awareness of his own powers, and in the situation of internal freedom, as conditions change in the external world. In this way music joins the other arts in creating social consciousness, or the individual's awareness of the internal life he shares with society, and in revealing the internal history of society. The Experimental Years: A View from the Left

Finkelstein also wrote on the peasant origins of classical music. A source that Barenboim is trying to find in his search for Arab music of the Palestinian people for his youth orchestra to play.

It is not too difficult to understand why composers continue to this day to root themselves in the folk traditions of the nation. It is not only a way to enrich the musical imagination, it is also a way to identify with some of music's most progressive traditions. Obviously, as capitalism continues to destroy the social basis of folk music--the peasantry--it will be more and more difficult to find inspiration in the world that surrounds the composer. Singling out Bartok, the great communist musicologist Sidney Finkelstein addressed this theme in "Composer and Nation: The Folk Heritage in Music":

"Bartok represents the end of a period, and at the same time helps lay the ground for a new development. He is the greatest of those in his generation who saw the peasantry as Synonymous with the nation; a viewpoint no longer possible in the next generation. For the transformation of the countryside is a world-wide process. Whether under the conditions of capitalism or socialism, masses of peasants, farmers, farm workers and their children are entering city industrial life, and those that remain on the land are working under conditions of large-scale production that bring them close to the city working class. The cultural isolation of the countryside, which fostered the great oral tradition of folk music but the other side of which was poverty and illiteracy, is being broken down. Like the research of others in folk music, Bartok’s devoted and intensive effort to record and preserve the old forms of folk music came at a time when this music was losing its currency as a living oral tradition. And the preservation of this music gives it renewed life on a different level, for it becomes part of the conscious national heritage, lending its vitality to new forms of musical creation." Muzsikás and Bela Bartok

Finkelstein faced anti-semitism as well as anti-communist hysteria from the American right during his life time too.
The Marxist Minstrels

An intolerance that is reflected today in the Zionist attacks on Barenboim. And by those who would create States that limit the freedom of the people.

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Larry Gambone said...

Great article Eugene! I was only vaguely aware of the conductor and this really showed how important he is both musically and politically. The Spinoza influence also showed up with the libertarian socialist Joseph Dietzgen who thought highly of him.

diva said...

Awesome read, eugene! Learning music from an early age and continuing to explore it by doing it, not just listening to it, is in my opinion the key to recognizing and understanding broader patterns in human behavior. Of course I realize I don't have an objective opinion on that due to my relationship to music. Also, thanks for the great posts you've put up from time to time on NewsTrolls!


eugene plawiuk said...

I was awed by the wordnerful music that the BBC used as background to their documentary, alot of Palestinian Yemeni and other middle eastern music reminicint of Ofra Hazzi. In trying to find a folk art basis of music Barenboim spoke of trying to get the Israelis to see that the Palestinians have and had a culture something the Zionists in their racism deny. Something that actually their Old Testament attests to, the Song of Songs is based on Palestinian arab folk marriage rituals which related to grain harvest dances. Eclectic ain't I.