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Laudatio uitgesproken door prof. dr. Benjamin Van Camp

Laudatio Daniel Barenboim

Daniel Barenboim is a remarkable person in more than one way. He is not only an eminent musician in his own right, but he also uses the medium of music to bring people together across different cultures and political dividing lines. His intense, creative friendship with the late world-famous orientalist of Columbia University, Edward Saïd, led to the West-Eastern Divan Workshop and is a clear example of what can be achieved if people can be brought to co-operate in an atmosphere of mutual affection and respect. This is also a major reason why the Vrije Universiteit Brussel decided to award Daniel Barenboim an honorary doctorate. But let me concentrate first of all on his extensive musical career.

Daniel Barenboim was born in Buenos Aires in 1942 to parents of Jewish-Russian descent. At a very young age he took up the piano and gave his first official concert in Buenos Aires in August 1950, at the age of 8. Barenboim’s family moved to Israel in 1952 and two years later his parents brought him to Salzburg to attend Igor Markevich's conducting classes. During the same summer he met Wilhelm Furtwängler. When Furtwängler heard the young Barenboim play, he was struck by his great musical talent. In a letter that would open many doors to Daniel Barenboim for a long time afterwards, he described the eleven-year-old Barenboim as a “phenomenon”.
Daniel Barenboim soon became known as one of the most versatile pianists of his generation, making successful concert tours of the United States, Europe and Australia. From 1954 on, he also began to record the most important works from the piano repertory, including sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven, and concertos by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Bartók.
While further pursuing his career as a performing musician, Daniel Barenboim began to devote time to conducting, gaining a worldwide reputation as conductor of the English Chamber Orchestra. Both as a conductor and a pianist he toured all over Europe, the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. A successful début as conductor with the New Philharmonia Orchestra in London in 1967 led to Barenboim’s working with all the leading European and American symphony orchestras. Between 1975 and 1989 he was Musical Director of the Orchestre de Paris. In 1991 he was appointed Musical Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. One year later he became General Musical Director of the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin. The Staatskapelle Berlin appointed him Chief Conductor for Life in 2000.

Daniel Barenboim is, like any other first-rate musician, a communicator, communicating a message through his music. One thing he has also tried to make clear is that music can bring people together in an atmosphere of mutual affection and respect. In this way he has succeeded in building bridges between people of different cultures and across political boundaries.
In the early 1990’s he met by accident the Columbia University professor, Edward Saïd, in a London hotel lobby. This meeting led to an intense friendship, although according to popular conceptions they should have been poles apart politically. During their first meeting, however, they discovered that they held similar views on possible Israeli/Palestinian co-operation and of future peaceful co-existence in the Middle East. Barenboim and Saïd extended their own dialogue in setting up musical events, leading to Daniel Barenboim's first concert in the West Bank territories in February 1999. Following this concert Saïd and Barenboim set up a workshop for young musicians between the ages of 14 and 25 from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia and Israel, which they called the West-Eastern Divan Workshop. The first public appearance of this workshop was in Weimar in August 1999, bringing these young people together on neutral ground to make music with the guidance of some of the world's best musicians. The city of Weimar was chosen for its rich cultural tradition of writers, poets, musicians and creative artists, as well as being for many years in the front line of one of Europe’s great political divisions. Another option was Daniel Barenboim’s idea of two concertmasters for the orchestra, an Israeli and a Lebanese. The workshop was a remarkable success and was held again in Weimar in the summer of 2000, in Chicago in the summer of 2001 and in Seville in 2002.

With this workshop Daniel Barenboim has made clear that music is firmly anchored in the events of everyday life. The West-Eastern Divan Workshop, is not just a reflection of politics, but is about learning how to listen to others; just like in an orchestra, where musicians do not have to listen only to themselves but to all the others, and are constantly finding ways in which each passage connects and interrelates to what comes next and what has gone before.

Daniel Barenboim has received some very distinguished awards for his efforts in bringing people together through music. With Edward Saïd, he received Spain's prestigious Prince of Asturias Concord Prize in October 2002 for founding the West-Eastern Divan Workshop. Daniel Barenboim has also been given honorary Spanish citizenship. The Protestant Academy of Tutzing awarded him its Tolerance Prize in November 2002 for his efforts in bringing Palestinians and Israelis together through music. And the President of Germany has awarded him the Grosses Bundesverdienstkreuz, the highest German honour given to someone who is not a head of state.

I am therefore extremely pleased that the Vrije Universiteit Brussel can add to this illustrious record in conferring an Honorary Doctorate on Maestro Daniel Barenboim.