Daniel Barenboim has never been afraid to speak his mind. The outspoken conductor has long been an advocate for peace in the Middle East, founding the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in 1999 and attracting praise (and criticism) more recently for his views on the Israel-Palestine conflict and Brexit. Following his second performance in Sydney yesterday – the midpoint of his first tour to Australia since 1970 and the culmination of his Brahms Symphony cycle – he offered some advice for Australia.
Daniel Barenboim. Photo © Peter Adamik
Microphone in hand, Barenboim bid the audience at the Sydney Opera House sit down, bringing to an end the standing ovation that followed his performance with the Staatskapelle Berlin of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony. “I wanted to say this yesterday, but being the first concert I didn’t think it was appropriate,” he said. “Then I wanted to say it before the concert today, and I thought, ‘It’s not appropriate’,” he continued, drawing a laugh from the audience. “But unless I say it now, I will not say it.”
“I wanted to tell you that the Staatskapelle and I would like to dedicate our concert to the memory of the first creative inhabitants of this continent,” the maestro said to an audience who – after a moment of surprise – erupted into thunderous applause.
“In the same way that it is important for each one of us to make our account with our past, with our present, with our friends, with our enemies, if we have [them]. It is very important for nations, too,” he said. “And we live in a time now when people don’t want to hear about this. They don’t want to hear about ‘inclusion’, they don’t want to hear about ‘connections’. They want to hear about ‘I’ alone. And maybe, maybe it is a little late. Maybe it took a little too long for everybody in this continent to realise that. Possible. I was here 60 years ago in 1958 and nobody spoke about this. So maybe it is a little late – but better late than never. And I must say to you, I have great respect for that, I have respect for all the people and the governments, everybody who really realises that, because a country that does not make its account with the past is not a country that deserves to be in the society of nations.”
When the applause – and at least one cry of “hear, hear!” died down, he finished on a lighter note. “I’ve been very happy to come back after so many years, I have not been here now for 48 years, and you gave me personally also such a warm reception that it makes me feel I have to wait another 48 years to come back, so that I get again this kind of reception,” he said, prompting more laughter from the audience. “In any case, I would like to thank you in the name of all my colleagues for your enthusiasm, for your admiration, for everything that you have brought to this concert, and we are having a really, really wonderful time in Australia and are already sad that tomorrow is our last concert.”
Daniel Barenboim conducts the Staatskapelle Berlin at the Sydney Opera House November 27
Read our reviews of Daniel Barenboim’s concerts with the Staatskapelle Berlin at the Sydney Opera House