Last weekend Daniel Barenboim brought the Staatskapelle Berlin to perform at the BBC Proms for a cycle of Elgar’s symphonies. As Elgar only finished two of the things, it is among the easier symphonic cycles to pull off. But the Staatskapelle played beautifully over two nights at the Albert Hall, with moments of outstanding musicianship. They were let down only, at the end of the second evening, by their conductor.
Turning around on the podium to face the audience, he announced that there was something he wanted to say. ‘I don’t know whether all of you will agree with me, but I would really like to share that with you.’ And then he began to spoil the evening.
The Maestro informed us that the Staatskapelle had delayed their holidays for a week in order to come and perform these two concerts. He told us how much the orchestra had fallen in love with these symphonies and had particularly wanted to play them for us. This we already knew. None of the players appeared to be there under duress. We witnessed no strings sawing away sullenly, nor any among the wind sections checking their watches.
‘When I look at the world with so many isolation[ist] tendencies, I get very worried,’ Barenboim continued. ‘I know I am not alone.’ Most of the audience applauded. After reminding us that he had married in the UK and been shown much affection by the country (as though to suggest things might be different now), he told us, ‘The main problem of today is not the main policies of this country or of that country. The main problem of today is that there is not enough education. And if you look at the difficulties that the European continent is going through now, you can see that, why it is, because of the lack of common education.