I actually don’t think that the things Norman Lebrecht quotes star classical pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim saying about the nature of the Covid ordeal now being suffered by him and his fellow musicians and performers are really that terrible. Barenboim was trying to get across the all-embracing inescapability of the thing. He compared it to World War 2, pointing out that there were places in the world where you could escape from that war. True, he might had been wise to add a phrase like “if you were lucky”. Because as Lebrecht then argues, millions were not so lucky, could not escape World War 2 and suffered horrors and deaths way worse that anything now being endured by all but the most unlucky of the Covid generation.
This is a really unwise statement.
Maybe, but personally I doubt it. I would say that, for once, this is a case where “clarification” is really all that should be needed, and maybe not even that. It was clear enough what Barenboim was at least trying to say.
But what I do relish about Lebrecht is his willingness to disagree in public with classical music’s various star performers when they express what he considers to be foolish opinions outside of their core competence. And in general, when he reckons they are not doing their jobs well enough to justify their often stonkingly unequal remuneration.
Especially when you consider the kind of power that people like Barenboim wield from their perches at the top of the musical world, often without even realising it.
And, when you consider the crawling reverence with which these people are now mostly treated by such broadcasting organisations as the BBC.
I have a recording from off the radio of a Proms performance of Beethoven’s third piano concerto (which is one of my very favourite pieces), in which rising star pianist Igor Levit was the soloist. And very well he played it. (I happen greatly to prefer Levit’s way with this concerto to how Barenboim is in the habit of playing it.) But the spoken BBC intro, particularly as perpetrated by the BBC’s Petroc Trelawney, was some of the most grovellingly ridiculous verbiage I have recently heard on a serious radio station. Based on how Levit plays this concerto, and having heard him play Bach and Beethoven solo piano music that I happen also to own on CD, I think Levit is a fine pianist. But Trelawney spoke about Levit’s trick, to take a particularly ridiculous example, of bringing a bar of chocolate with him to fortify him during a hard evening of piano playing as if this were evidence that Levit is some sort of Higher Being, far above us mortals. It was embarrassing.
Norman Lebrecht, I think, often grabs hold of whatever stick he happens to be shaking at the wrong end. He is a man of impulse, and I think this often leads him astray. But he is right that this kind of grovelling to the big beasts of classical music should stop.