Friday, January 02, 2009

On (not) Hating Daniel Barenboim

The Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's Concert was excellent, as it usually is.

This year it was led, for the first time, by Daniel Barenboim. I disliked Barenboim for ages, for reasons I cannot really recall, beyond maybe divining a certain moral turpitude in his actions at some point that offended my then black and white sensibilities.

I disliked him even though he led perhaps the best orchestral concert I've ever seen, in the very same hall he was in today, except leading the Chicago Symphony. I cannot recall one of the works, however, they performed Debussy's La Mer and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, both of which were revelatory performances of works I had up to that point been less than impressed with.

However, the highlight of the evening was when, after numerous ovations, Barenboim swung around, sat the orchestra down, and the opening chords of the overture to Tannhäuser pressed into the hot May air.

By this point, everyone, exhausted, elated, just started crying and hugging each other. The music had crept up on people, and caught them terribly off guard.

Just imagine it - a whole bunch of rich, old, young, fat, skinny, poor people hugging each other in gratitude that the CSO would play Wagner for them. If only we could get people to keep clapping after the curtain drops at the Canadian Opera Company...

Nevertheless, I still hated Daniel Barenboim.

And then I forgot why I hated him, but as a legacy of that hatred, I still avoided him. And then one day, I happened upon a book of his conversations with Edward Said and it occurred to me that I had absolutely no reason whatsoever to dislike the man.

And then I saw his performance of one of the Beethoven sonatas last year on American public television, and realised that I could no longer ignore the man. And now I realised just what I've been denying myself, although it had been right there in front of me, all along.

Thoughts get in the way, don't they? But rather than lamenting on the lost years where I absented myself from his music making, I will concentrate on what he still has to offer.

So perhaps the best thing about New Year's isn't just that it's a fresh start, but also an opportunity to really change one's mind.

Anyway, here's a highlight from yesterday's show - the muscians walking offstage in protest to his lazy, slapdash conducting. (Some things never change)


Coaster said...

Andrew- thanks for this wonderful post. I enjoyed your brief discourse on revisitation as much as I did the youtube find.

Andrew W. said...

Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it.