The end of Daniel Barenboim’s Prom had a bit of a Shirley Bassey feel: a leisurely extra half hour of encores, with the maestro eventually seizing a mic to address the huge adoring audience in an exhausted but happy spirit, mentioning that this was the eve of the 65th anniversary of his first concert, and that almost 60 years of that had included performance in London. This took me back to my teens, visiting the Festival Hall on Sunday afternoons with my parents, and hearing one of the legendary performances by Barenboim, du Pre, Zukerman, Perlman and Zubin Mehta (on bass).
You would expect every classical music person to love Barenboim, but, having braved the internet for a few moments to bring you a hyperlink for the Barenboim-Stiftung, it’s clear that plenty of people object to his orchestra’s stated ethos that ‘there will never be a military solution to the Middle East conflict, and that the destinies of the Israelis and Palestinians are inextricably linked’. Much of the West-Eastern Divan’s business these days seems to physically happen away from the region, with the group of Arab and Israeli musicians rehearsing each year in Seville (the number of Spanish names in the programme is notable). And remarkably, a new Barenboim-Said Academy for young musicans from the Middle East will open in Berlin next year, publicly funded by the City of Berlin and the German Federal Government. Considering the immense generosity by everyone concerned, not least that of Barenboim (who said at the Prom that the West-East Divan had been the greatest musical experience of his life) I felt even more sad about the currently mean responses by the UK government and much of the media to anything and anyone foreign.
Leaving aside a very enjoyable concert whose abiding memory out of many will be the courageous cymbals player paying the price for Barenboim’s supercharged tempo in the finale of Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony, this was a chance to reflect on the utterly important symbolic and practical role classical music can play in contemporary life; our privilege to have such easy access to it at the BBC Proms; and what it would be like to live in a world actually governed by people who possessed a little of Barenboim’s ability and generosity of spirit.