Norman Lebrecht has a go at Barenboim (and Igor Levit is not a God either)

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.

Concludes Lebrecht:

This is a really unwise statement.

Maybe, but personally I doubt it. I would say that, for once, that 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.

Hitchens talks to Paxman

I fear that I may now be an I-may-be-about-to-die bore. In the sense that I can think of nothing which I am now doing or saying or even thinking which is not happening under the shadow of my recent lung cancer diagnosis. And given the subject matter of this particular posting, any pretence along such lines would be absurd. Which is why I start with that now. Which could get very boring.

Anyway, what I want to link to is this video, lasting about half an hour, in which Jeremy Paxman talks with the late and then staring his about-to-be-lateness in the face Christopher Hitchens.

Here’s a still from this video, which I think I am presenting because one of the many things I like about this conversation is how Hitchens looks. His head entirely shaven, his face serious, the very picture of a ancient stoic, looking both at death and at the kind of life he might have to suffer before death with an unflinching gaze:

Hitchens’s appearance reminds me of that of my friend and fellow Samizdatista, Paul Marks. “The Sage of Kettering”, as the Samizdata commentariat refers to Paul, looks a lot like this already, despite the fact that to the best of my knowledge Paul is only going to die in the same medically relaxed sense that we all are.

The link to this video was, of course, sent to me, by a friend who had learned of my current medical predicament and thought that I might appreciate learning about it and watching it. Which I very much did, having missed it the first time around.

The friend picked out a bit right at the end, where Hitchens says that he especially appreciated communications from strangers who had in one way or another appreciated something that he, Hitchens, had said or written or done. “If in doubt about whether to send me such a message, do not hesitate. Send it.” Or words to that effect.

He added that he regretted having failed to do this for others in similar circumstances.

I agree on both counts. I am being very cheered up right now by all the kind things that I have persuaded various people, not a few of them pseudonymous Samizdata people whose identities are otherwise unknown to me, to say to me about my own various sayings and doings over the years. And I too regret having failed to do as much of this as I could and should have, when I saw valued friends and intellectual comrades nearing their ends.

New category in the category list below: Death. Here’s hoping that at least some of the remaining postings I manage here are not thus tagged.

By the way, that could be quite a few more. Hitchens was facing the certainty of death, pretty soon, when he did this interview, and he duly died soon after it, I believe. Not long, anyway. All I can really say about my lung cancer is that it sounds pretty bad. But that might merely mean it being pretty bad for quite a while longer.