Austria Mahler, Beethoven: West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim (conductor), Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg, 19.8.2011 (JFL)
Mahler: Adagio from Symphony No.10
Beethoven: Symphony No.3
West-Eastern Divan Orchestra
After a thirty minute delay, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO) took to the stage of the Großes Festspielhaus, to perform Mahler’s Adagio from the 10th Symphony and Beethoven’s “Eroica”. For an (alleged) youth orchestra, there are a surprising variety of balding patterns among the players, and Barenboim’s younger son, violinist Michael, at the first desk. Several of the musicians that still perform with the orchestra are already established members of proper, paid, professional orchestras—but for one reason or another still tour with the WEDO which is in any case and for all the good intentions, more Spanish than either Palestinian or Israeli. It is questionable how much intercultural dialogue the work the project, founded by Barenboim together with Edward Said to get some outreach going in the Israeli-Palestinian question. Only: Now that Said is dead, one wonders who will present the Israeli side of things.
The disquieting political aspect of the whole presentation was furthered by the presentation of the “2011 Tolerance Award by the European Academy of Sciences and Arts” to Daniel Barenboim. To the hardened cynic this ostentatious support for Daniel Barenboim’s work reeks of B.S. at best (just like the Nobel Peace Prize nomination of Barenboim’s—not his fault, of course, which only further exposes that particular prize as a painful joke that discredits the whole Nobel brand). And at worst the “Tolerance Award” might strike one as high-society’s most acceptable and chic form of anti-semitism. Well, a hardened cynic might think that, at least. Daniel Barenboim is too clever not to know that this kind of hoopla is distracting, and he accepted the prize with demure demeanor and humble reference to the orchestra, carefully side-stepping any Palestine-Israel claim on the orchestra in the process, and then poked a hole in the award’s title: “Tolerance Award? I’m surprised, actually, because tolerance is not what we are about. Tolerating is in spite.” Even hardened cynics would have liked that one.
They would have liked the musical performance even better! Very beautiful long lines rising and falling (not always perfectly together) and soft transitions marked this very well conceptualized and conducted Mahler Adagio. A gorgeous, surprisingly pain-free, and sumptuous world of Mahler where the anguish was ironed out, fluidity reigned, and softest sounds emerged organically from fortissimo outbursts. The shrieking chords that mark the descent toward the Purgatorio (the short third movement of the Tenth) were paused for, then stacked and harmoniously drawn out—different, and lovely. The WEDO’s thick, fast, zesty Eroica was at least as good, showed off the wide dynamic bandwidth of the orchestra, the mature, fantastic woodwinds (fourth movement), and Barenboim’s penchant for a dark and varnished sound that’s sadly gone rather out of fashion in this repertoire. In the third movement he leaned back and let the orchestra play on its own, just giving seemingly careless cues here and there before—nearly poking the principal second violinist’s eye out with a baton stab’n’swirl in the process—getting back into active conducting as an excited forte broke out. If only all not-actually-that-young youth orchestras with politically questionable baggage sounded that good!
Jens F. Laurson