№ 321/2013 from Oct 23, 2013
On Wednesday the renowned pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim was honored with the Freedom Award of Freie Universität Berlin. With this award, the university recognized Barenboim’s commitment to dialogue in the Middle East. In the belief that art can overcome barriers, Barenboim, along with the late Palestinian literary scholar Edward Said founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Founded in 1999, the orchestra brings together young musicians from Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Arab countries to promote dialogue and mutual listening by playing music together.
The laudation was delivered by the famed sociologist, writer, and professor emeritus of Freie Universität, and former rector of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Wolf Lepenies, who himself was honored with the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in 2006. Lepenies called Barenboim a courageous leader and citizen of the world. Like no other contemporary musician, he brings a higher purpose to the practice of art: for Barenboim playing music is a political act. Lepenies recalled the first meeting between Edward Said and Daniel Bareinboim in London in 1993 and the circumstances of the founding of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra six years later. In this process Barenboim was following his own maxim, whereby it is easier to achieve the impossible than the difficult. As Lepenies said, ever since the orchestra was founded, each concert has been a "political and artistic miracle," a "realized utopia," and a "lesson in realpolitik." The artistic interaction between the musicians is a powerful example for not putting up with the current status in the Middle East. Barenboim's activities are an appeal that the Middle East is a place where individuals could get along with each other. The orchestra and Barenboim's work are a constant challenge for Israel’s politicians and the Palestinians, who are "united in stubbornness." Lepenies appealed to the Berlin Senate to rethink its announced funding cut for the research program "Europe in the Middle East – the Middle East in Europe." As he said, this project promotes the Judeo-Christian-Muslim dialogue in Berlin, like the interplay between the musicians. Moreover, it would be advantageous for the research group to cooperate with the newly formed Academy of the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the Barenboim-Said Academy for Young Musicians, which is in the process of being set up.
In his acceptance speech, Barenboim said he was proud and happy about the award and the associated recognition of his work. He emphasized that musicians could not "burst open any borders." However, the joint work between the musicians could lead to "understanding and acceptance" of each other -- more than just barely tolerating the other. Barenboim stressed that there is no military and no political solution for the Middle East peace process -- what is needed is a human solution, which can be reached through mutual understanding and curiosity about each other. One cannot live together "back to back." In his welcoming address, the president of the university Prof. Dr. Peter-André Alt had previously emphasized that freedom is not possible without mutual consent.
Music was provided by the violinist Guy Braunstein and the pianist Saleem Abboud Ashkar, who played the first movement of the Spring Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven and the first movement of the Violin Sonata in E Flat Major by Richard Strauss. Both were members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra
Daniel Barenboim, born in 1942 in Buenos Aires as the son of Russian Jewish parents, is one of the most renowned musicians of our time. A pianist and conductor, he has been performing on the great stages of the world since the age of ten. London, Paris, Chicago, Bayreuth, and Milan are just a few of the cities where he has been enthusiastically acclaimed. Since 1992, Barenboim has been the music director of the Berlin State Opera (Staatsoper Unter den Linden) in his adopted hometown of Berlin. Many of his musical recordings have won awards. In addition, he is the recipient of numerous prestigious honors, including the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Grand Merit Cross with Star and Sash.
Barenboim is the author of several books and has given a series of talks and lectures at, among other places, Columbia University in New York and as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard University. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Oxford University. In addition to his own performing, Barenboim is very involved in fostering young talent. Based on his initiative, a nursery school with special emphasis on music was set up in Berlin in 2005. Barenboim, a United Nations Messenger of Peace, is committed to music education in the Palestinian territories, where he initiated the construction of conservatories of music. His latest project is the Barenboim-Said Academy, which is scheduled to start operating in 2015 in Berlin. Young people from Israel and the Arab countries will be given scholarships to pursue their music education.
With the Freedom Award, Freie Universität honors persons who served freedom in a political, social, or academic context. Two traditions come together in this award: the vision of freedom, which goes back to the university’s founding history, and the international orientation of Freie Universität. The previous Freedom Award winners are the former UN High Commissioner and former Irish President Mary Robinson, the South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, and the former President of the Republic of Korea and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kim Dae-jung.