Lunch with Daniel Barenboim

BarebboimAndrew Clark in the FT:

The Lantana hostel, 30 minutes’ drive from Seville, is one of the few places in the world where Daniel Barenboim, conductor, pianist and pathological over-achiever, feels sufficiently relaxed to put his feet up. Literally. As I am ushered into a sun-filled room, I see him lounging on a sofa at the far end, dressed down in a white polo-shirt and grey striped trousers, his bare feet perched on the coffee table. For the past eight years he has been coming to Lantana to work with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which he and the late Palestinian writer and philosopher Edward Said founded in 1999.

It is the day after a performance of Beethoven’s Fidelio in Seville’s Teatro de la Maestranza – the culmination of an intensive two-week rehearsal period. Barenboim looks tired. The following morning he and a 103-strong entourage, ranging in age from 12 to mid-20s, will set off on a gruelling international tour, finishing next Friday and Saturday at the BBC Proms in London.

Barenboim, now 66, has been at the forefront of classical music for six decades. He gave his first piano recital at the age of seven in his native Argentina (three years later he and his family moved to Israel). At 17 he performed his first cycle of the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas, a feat he has repeated about 30 times around the world. Aged 20 and already fluent in five languages, he made his conducting debut in Israel, later becoming music director of the Orchestre de Paris, the Chicago Symphony and the Berlin State Opera – the last of which remains his fiefdom, along with La Scala, Milan, where three years ago the post of maestro scaligero (master of La Scala) was created for him.

The music in Barenboim’s life never stops but in the West-Eastern Divan, named after a collection of Goethe poems evoking western awareness of eastern culture, it shares the limelight with political activism. He sees the orchestra as a model for dialogue in the Middle East – an example of how to break the wall of hatred between peoples.