Israeli-Argentine conductor Daniel Barenboim.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Austrian emperor Franz is said to have refused to have anything to do the with the composer Ludwig van Beethoven on the grounds that the man and his music were revolutionary.
The emperor is in illustrious company: Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev now apparently wants nothing to do with one of the great composer’s greatest interpreters, the pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim.
Barenboim, an Israeli, will conduct the Berlin Staatskapelle Orchestra, which has confirmed that is in talks over a concert in Iran. German media have said the orchestra will travel to Iran with Chancellor Angela Merkel if the Iran deal is ratified and completed.
“This melody must be stopped. Barenboim promotes an anti-Israeli line and makes sure to bash [Israel] by using culture as a lever for his anti-Israel political views. This is an erroneous decision by Merkel,” Regev wrote in a Facebook post.
Regev is ired by Barenboim’s politics: He is an outspoken opponent of the government’s settlement policy and the occupation, he has taken up Palestinian citizenship and has even expressed qualified support for anti-Israeli boycotts.
Regev’s comments are just the latest in an ever-intensifying crescendo of criticism against artists who don’t toe the line. She threatened to cut funding from popular actor Norman Issa’s Jewish-Arab children’s theater, she has vowed to withhold funds from artistic institutions that “defame the state” and promised that artists will soon know “exactly what is permitted and what is prohibited.”
Barenboim’s views may be jarring to many Israelis, as indeed may the decision itself to go and play in a country that has again and again vowed to annihilate Israel. As an anecdote, in the 1950s, the young Barenboim is said to have been invited to perform Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic, but his father considered it too soon after the Holocaust for a child of Jewish parents to be performing in Berlin.
Lest it be forgotten, Barenboim held his wedding to the late Jacqueline Dupre at the Western Wall, played for IDF troops on the front lines in the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War.
He maintains a home in Israel and his second wife, Elena Bashkirova, runs the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival, which brings leading musicians from around the world to Israel.
For Regev, all dissent must be muted.
While professing her commitment to pluralism and freedom of speech, she holds a Manichean world view – everything is black or white, light or dark, good or evil, either you are with us or against us. In Regev’s orchestra there is no variation, no range, no color, and no harmony, just the dull beat of conformity.
It is as yet unclear what the program will be if the Berlin Staatskapelle does indeed travel to Tehran. Perhaps – if Tehran allows the Israeli maestro into the country – Barenboim will conduct Beethoven’s Fifth with its revolutionary overtures or the Ninth with its message of freedom and fraternity. Beethoven was a passionate believer in freedom and the rights of man and his music is said to have the power to convey political and philosophical ideas and redeeming emotion.
This is something that troubles Iran’s leaders, too. Once again, Regev is in good company: Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei wrote coincidentally on the day news broke of the German orchestra’s planned visit: “Economic woes won’t cause anxiety, but cultural problems agitate one to lose sleep over them. All countries pay attention to cultural products; so, if some products contradict principles and basics, they must be banned with no shame.”