Sunday, December 11, 2016

Classical music is suffering from compromise creep


UN Human Rights Day on December 10th prompted a Guardian article by Daniel Barenboim headlined "It will take more than tolerance to protect human rights". Barenboim's invaluable work with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and the Barenboim-Said Akademie is quite rightly held up as a glowing example of the role of the arts in protecting human rights. But that must not stop discussion of how far an artist should compromise in pursuit of their goal. Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra have visited Abu Dhabi twice. Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, a federal nation with a lamentable human rights record, as independent monitoring organisation Human Rights Watch reports:
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) often uses its affluence to mask the government’s serious human rights problems. The government arbitrarily detains, and in some cases forcibly disappears, individuals who criticized the authorities, and its security forces face allegations of torturing detaineeds. A new anti-discrimination law further jeopardizes free speech and is discriminatory, as it excludes references to gender and sexuality. Authorities denied access to the country to activists who criticized the UAE’s mistreatment of migrant workers. Labor abuses persist, as migrant construction workers facing serious exploitation. Female domestic workers are excluded from regulations that apply to workers in other sectors.
The Emirati government has literally turned reputation laundering into a fine art, and it can be argued that the cash-rich UAE is an inevitable destination on the celebrity classical music touring circuit. But in this case the UAE's involvement goes deeper: as the website of the Abu Dhabi Festival explains:
Gifted Palestinian cellist Faris Amin is the first recipient of The Abu Dhabi Festival Scholarship at The Barenboim-Said Akademie, one of the greatest and latest music conservatories in the world, under the direction of Maestro Daniel Barenboim. This is the first step in a long-term partnership with the Barenboim-Said Foundation, which includes the Barenboim-Said Akademie and its concert hall the Pierre Boulez Saal (destined to open in March 2017). This is the Akademie’s first collaboration with a country from the Arab world.
It can also be argued that compromise is necessary to achieve Daniel Barenboim's admirable goal of teaching students art of listening to each other both as musicians and as human beings. But that must not prevent us from debating the acceptable degree of compromise, and in our supposedly humane times classical music is suffering from a severe case of compromise creep. It is quite right to say that it will take more than tolerance to protect human rights. That is why Pau Casals refused to perform in countries not respecting democratic principles, and why Arturo Toscanini announced his withdrawal from the 1938 Salzburg Festival in protest against the links between the German and Austrian Governments with these words: " I hate compromise. I walk and I shall always walk on the straight path that I have traced for myself in life".

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