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Daniel Barenboim: a musical and moral beacon

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Published: 11 October 2022

Last updated: 5 March 2024

The pianist and conductor is stepping back from performing due to health issues, but his example as a musician and as a public figure must never disappear.

Daniel Barenboim is more than one of the world’s great musicians. He is also one of the world’s great public figures. In him, the two things unite and are inseparable. He stands in the tradition of Arturo Toscanini, Pablo Casals and Yehudi Menuhin as a classical music giant who is also a thinker and a moral beacon. In modern times, there has been no one to compare with him.

As a pianist, accompanist and conductor,  Barenboim has always spoken through his music to the better angels of the world. Yet through his lecturing and writing, through his work in the Middle East, and through his championing of the arts and justice, he has never been afraid to take a stand, either. Recently, he has been playing a characteristically determined role helping to lead the arts back to life after the pandemic. And, as the writer Norman Lebrecht points out, he is the only living classical musician who has access to world leaders.

Last week, Barenboim announced that, at 79 and in poor health, he is taking “a step back” for the coming months. His announcement leaves a vast void in the musical world and beyond, since artistic and moral figures of his kind come among us only rarely.

His journey has taken him from Buenos Aires to Berlin, via Paris, Chicago and Ramallah. He helped challenge the ban on Wagner’s music in Israel. He spoke out, at the Proms in 2017, against nationalism. The pandemic forced him to cancel a planned tour of central Africa with his Arab-Israeli West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

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The Guardian view on Daniel Barenboim: a musical and moral beacon (Guardian)

Photo: Daniel Barenboim conducting (IMDB)

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