Daniel Barenboim makes pro-European unity speech at Proms

The 74-year old Jewish musician and conductor played an entirely English programme with his European orchestra on Sunday night


Daniel Barenboim conducted the Orchestra Staatskappelle Berlin at the BBC Proms last night, giving an impassioned speech for European unity at the end of the performance.

The 74-year old Jewish musician and conductor played an entirely English programme with his European orchestra, including Elgar’s second symphony and the UK premiere of Sir Harrison Birtwistle's Deep Time.

At the end of the evening, he addressed the crowd, saying he “would like to share with you some thoughts that I have.

“Not political”, he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

“Not political, but rather of a human concern. When I look at the world with so many isolation [sic] tendencies, I get very worried.

“And I know I’m not alone”, he said, prompting applause from the crowd.

“You know, I lived in this country for many years. I was married in this country and I lived here for many years, and I was shown so much affection whilst I lived here that this kind of gave me the impetus, if you want, to say what I would like to say.

“I think the main problem today is not the policies of this country and of that country. The main problem of today is that there is not enough education.

“That there is not enough education for music, we’ve known for a long time. But now there is not enough education about whom we are, what is a human being, and how he is to relate with others of the same kind.

“That’s why I say it is not political, but of human concern. If you look at the difficulties that the European continent is going through now, you can see why that is, because of the lack of common education. Because in one country they don’t know why they should belong to something where there are other countries too. And I’m not talking about this country now. I’ll come to that.

“I’m talking in general. You know, our profession, the musical profession, is the only one that is not national. No German musician will tell you ‘I am a German musician, and I will only play Brahms, Schumann and Beethoven. We had very good proof of it tonight.

“If – let me stay out of Great Britain – if a French citizen wants to learn Goethe, he has to have a translation. But he doesn’t need a translation for the Beethoven symphonies. This is why music is so important. And these isolationist tendencies and nationalism in its very narrow sense is something that is very dangerous and can only be fought with a real, great accent on the education of the new generation.

“We are probably all too old for that”, he said, gesturing at himself and the crowd.

“But the new generations, they have to understand that Greece and Germany and France and Denmark all have something in common called European culture.

“Not only the Euro. Culture. This is really the most important thing. And also in this cultural community called Europe there is a place for diverse cultures, for different cultures, for a different way of looking at things. But this can be done only with education. And the fanaticism that exists in the world, with religious backgrounds, can also only be fought with education.

“Religious fanaticism cannot be fought with arms alone. The real evils of the world can only be fought with a humanism that keeps us all together. Including you.

“And I’m going to show you that I really mean it”, he said, and with the applause of the audience, turned to the orchestra and launched into Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance”, a piece considered iconically British. 

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