Bach to School: Dazzling When He Sprang on to the World Stage as a Pianist, Daniel Barenboim Has Conquered the Arenas of Conducting and Orchestral Leadership. He Is Now Turning His Attention to Enthusing Children with the Classics, Discovers
Duchen, Jessica, New Statesman (1996)
There are not many musicians who can conduct Mahler's Ninth at the Barbican one night and then return to the same hall a few weeks later to perform a piano recital of solo Bach. But in his various incarnations as pianist, conductor and cultural statesman, Daniel Barenboim has grown from child prodigy to an artist who takes a lead, and a stand, wherever he goes. "I think this is really one of the characteristics of our times," Barenboim remarks. "Postmodernism, if you want, means you can--and if you are a creative person you almost should--have multiple identities, based in other cultures. Paradoxically, only that way do you actually fortify each of these identities, because you are conscious of their differences."
Under the intent gaze of his hooded eyes, his trademark cigar wreathing his face in smoke, Barenboim is a powerful presence. The essence of dealing with the demands of such a life, Barenboim feels, is focus. "This is one of the reasons I felt forced to leave the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; so many things were taking so much time that did not have anything much to do with the music." He says his priority now is to tackle what he sees as the root cause of the ongoing threat to classical music. "I really want to explore ideas for what to do about music education. Because I think we are reaching a situation where the very future of classical music and its relation to society will be put into question."
The economic pressures facing musical organisations everywhere, from the Chicago SO to the three opera houses in Berlin, are, he says, "not the illness itself, but a symptom. The real illness is very simple: there is no musical education for young people. So why should they be interested in music? Why should music speak to a larger section of the population? You cannot become a successful lawyer or doctor and have a family and go to a concert for the first time in your late twenties or early thirties; if you have the bad luck to choose a night when I'm conducting the Schoenberg Variations, what can you get out of it? People keep talking about the crisis in the classical music world, concert life and the record industry. And of course it's too expensive for governments to support something that affects such a small part of the population. But why is that? Because there's no education! If music were taught in kindergartens, schools and high schools, then it would be of interest to a much larger percentage of the population and it would not be viewed as so expensive."
He has already begun to do something to bring about change. "I'm a firm believer in very early education. We've started a music kindergarten in Palestine as part of our music education programme there; it's very small, but the results are fascinating. I think we will open a music kindergarten in Berlin, too. And this is what the situation requires." The children, he explains, do some singing, begin to learn the piano and generally come into contact with, as he puts it, "the phenomenon of sound". "The most extraordinary thing about music," says Barenboim, "is that it expresses itself only through sound. I cannot explain to you the content of Bach's Well-Tempered Klavier or a Beethoven symphony. If I could do that, it would be unnecessary for me, or anybody, to play these pieces. But the fact that I cannot articulate them in words doesn't mean that there is no content. …