December 04, 2011
Beethoven and technology
One of the very best uses of the iPad I've found yet...Posted December 4, 2011 at 11:36pm
April 07, 2011
Brotherhood Across Barricades
Many of us journey through life looking for friendship and understanding, and sadly we are not guaranteed to find either in particularly significant quantities. So to find true friendship across the barricades of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not only unlikely - it is barely conceivable. But when the history of great friendships is written, one of the great stories to be told will undoubtedly be about the unlikely bond between the Argentinian-Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim and the Palestinian literary scholar and activist Edward Said.
Said died in 2003 and I remember my advisor, Michael Holquist, Bakhtin expert and friend of Said’s, preparing remarks for the memorial service. We briefly discussed Said’s literary work and then the conversation turned to Beethoven. Said was a fine pianist, a great lover of Beethoven among other composers, and over the years had reflected on music as deeply as he had on literature. He was one of those rare scholars who lived as rich a life outside the academy as within - he was an active participant in the cause for Palestinian independence, famously throwing stones over a wall erected by the Israelis.
He and Barenboim had met by chance in a hotel lobby at a fraught time in Middle Eastern politics, but found that despite their polarizing backgrounds, they shared many of the same views on how to move forward, and had admired each others’ work from afar. Most importantly, the Germanic tradition in music was central to both of their lives. Barenboim had been a protege of the legendary German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, and Said, though his literary work concerned the ways the Orient was fictionalized and distorted by Western portrayals, had grown up with Bach and Mozart’s music and at one point might have chosen a musical career.
It is easy to overstate the case and claim that these two men have changed the tone of the political conversation, which neither statesmen nor clergy have succeeded in doing. But that diminishes neither the beauty of their friendship nor the power of their conviction, which is that the building of bridges across the divide begins with friendships, preferably musical friendships like their own. Beginning with their meeting in the early 1990s until Said’s premature passing, these two friends spent untold hours together, talking, traveling, playing four-hand piano, all the while challenging each other to expand their view of the world. They established the West-East Divan Orchestra, the name taken from a collection of poems by Goethe about the Middle East, and in this orchestra Israeli and Palestinian young people make music side-by-side.
We prefer simple solutions to the problems we encounter, and simple solutions are often the best. But when the problems are as complex as war and peace, and defy the efforts of generations of great minds, where do we begin? Barenboim and Said are masters of their respective fields; their work already affects me independently of their politics. But what truly inspires is their friendship - and in spite of the shortness of human life, that will surely endure.Posted April 7, 2011 at 12:18pm