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Excellent and Thought-Provoking Collection of Essays,
This review is from: Music Quickens Time (Hardcover)
Daniel Barenboim is one of the world's greatest living conductors. This Argentine-born, Israeli child prodigy began publicly performing the piano at the age of seven before moving to Europe to pursue further studies in music. During his youth, he encountered the legendary German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, whose profound, probing, and philosophical approaches to music have become the paragon after which he patterned himself. Indeed, there is no one today I would rather hear conduct the operas of Wagner and the symphonies of Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler. As a pianist, only a handful can contest him in the keyboard masterpieces of Bach, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Chopin and many of the aforementioned masters.
Barenboim, however, is not merely a musician. He is also an international ambassador of peace who chooses to speak through the universal language of music. In Wagner's Bayreuth Festival, a temple of music tainted with the vestiges of the Nazi regime, Barenboim was the first Jewish conductor to be constantly invited for nearly two decades to direct its prestigious summer festivals. He is also an outspoken critic of Israel and has strongly supported Palestinian rights since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Together with his best friend Edward Said, he formed the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, an ensemble of Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab musicians who congregate not only for the sake of music, but also to symbolize a utopian state of peace in the war-torn Middle East.
The conductor is also a prolific writer, having published multiple articles in prestigious international publications like France's Le Monde and Germany's Der Tagesspiegel. Last year, he released his third book "Music Quickens Time," a collection of thought-provoking essays about the inherent truths in music and the philosophical lessons that revolutionaries like Mozart, Schumann and Bach are able to engender in their unique approaches to the art form. In this slender book, Daniel Barenboim eloquently shows how the fibers of music are intrinsically connected with the threads of life, unlocking a gateway for it to instruct us in exploring how we live, and to illuminate and find a resolution to many current, intractable issues.
His prelude begins with the words, "This is not a book for musicians, nor is it one for non-musicians, but rather for the curious mind that wishes to discover the parallels between music and life and the wisdom that becomes audible to the thinking ear." As an ambassador of music, Barenboim manages to effectively communicate certain human fundamentals through examples that expound on music's spatial and temporal relations, its innately pragmatic interconnections, its symbolic philosophies, and its undergirding motif of totality that shed light on a perspective constantly recapitulated in our symphony of life.
He urges readers to incorporate a culture of active and intelligent listening, to develop "the education of the ear." Although Barenboim is one of the world's most prestigious conductors, he argues that music should not be viewed as elite or esoteric; that education and consequently interest and curiosity are essential to its accessibility. He also suggests that a culture of listening is just as essential to an understanding of music as it is to the functioning of society. These are words of wisdom from a man who, on top of being able to converse fluently in at least six languages, commands mastery over the dialects of harmony, tonality and rhythm.
As a figure who advocates peace in the Middle East, he associates his rich musical life strongly with his ideas about the region's politics. Barenboim understands that music reveals the perfect balance "between intellect, emotion and temperament"; that the freedom and individuality inherent in music teaches us how we should view our relations with others. He also proposes the idea that music does not distinguish between race, sex, religion, or place of origin. Along with Edward Said, he hoped that these maxims would be realizable from the principles of diversity, culture and friendship that founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.
Although Barenboim may first come off as an ideologue, he approaches these political issues as someone familiar with human nature and morality. On several occasions, he has admonished the Palestinians to first understand the suffering of the Jewish people so that both Semitic peoples can begin to deal with each other. In a similar grain, he has also criticized the Israeli government for endangering the entire state with their oppressive attitude towards the Palestinians. On the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he defends his views by writing, "I question, however, whether it is not even more naïve to rely on a military solution that has not worked for sixty years." Idealism it may be, but a deeper exposition reveals several poignant truths that we, as pragmatic creatures, almost fail to understand.
Ultimately, what Barenboim draws from a life in music is the importance of its interconnections that extend multiple parallels into how we coexist in our global community. Among other things, he also believes that "the world of sound is capable of elevating the individual from a limited preoccupation with his own existence to a universal perception of his place among fellow human beings." People are constantly trying to search for the meaning of life and a solution to many of our problems, and they almost always fail to understand the complex network of threads that hold everything together. Perhaps Barenboim hopes that in our quest to understand music's ineffable totality, what we likewise should discover in life is the idea that everything is indeed connected.